GOP agenda takes hit af­ter Trump tirade

Pres­i­dent alien­ates Repub­li­cans af­ter his out­burst over vi­o­lence in Char­lottesville

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Lisa Mascaro

WASH­ING­TON — Repub­li­cans in Congress have tried to stick with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in hopes that de­spite po­lit­i­cally dam­ag­ing out­bursts from the White House, his pen would ul­ti­mately be able to sign their leg­isla­tive agenda into law.

But in the af­ter­math of Trump’s re­sponse to the neoNazi rally in Char­lottesville, Va., that prom­ise seems ever more dis­tant.

Con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans are now com­ing to grips with the re­al­ity that they are in­creas­ingly on their own, un­able to rely on the pres­i­dent to helm their party, but with­out hav­ing pow­er­ful enough con­gres­sional lead­ers to bring bick­er­ing fac­tions to­gether.

That has dimmed prospects of pass­ing big-ticket items such as tax re­form, an in­fra­struc­ture pack­age or a new health care law.

At best, when law­mak­ers re­turn to work next month, they hope to agree to keep the gov­ern­ment funded past the end of the fis­cal year on Sept. 30 and not pro­voke a fi­nan­cial cri­sis with a pro­longed stand­off over rais­ing the limit on fed­eral debt, which the gov­ern­ment will hit some­time in early Oc­to­ber.

“The pres­i­dent has not yet been able to demon­strate the sta­bil­ity nor some of the com­pe­tence that he needs to demon­strate in or­der to be suc­cess­ful,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told re­porters Thurs­day af­ter a meet­ing at the Chattanooga Ro­tary Club. “I do think there need to be some rad­i­cal changes. We Sens. Lind­sey Gra­ham, left, and Bob Corker have shared doubts about Pres­i­dent Trump. need for him to be suc­cess­ful.”

The lat­est Trump out­bursts so­lid­i­fied the gloomy assess­ment from many Repub­li­cans.

“It cod­i­fied it: This ad­min­is­tra­tion has no hope of ac­com­plish­ing any ma­jor pol­icy goals,” said long­time Repub­li­can strate­gist Rick Tyler, a for­mer top ad­viser to Newt Gin­grich and to Sen. Ted Cruz’s pres­i­den­tial bid.

Trump has emerged less a part­ner to the Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in Congress than an un­pre­dictable by­stander, wel­com­ing law­mak­ers to lunch one day, bash­ing them on Twit­ter the next.

Sev­eral sen­a­tors got the lat­est taste of that Thurs­day, when Trump swiftly turned on them af­ter they cri­tiqued his re­sponse to the neo-Nazi demon­stra­tions in Char­lottesville, Va.

Trump at­tacked Sens. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., on Twit­ter Thurs­day morn­ing — as­sign­ing a de­ri­sive nick­name, “Flake Jeff Flake,” to the Ari­zo­nan and prais­ing one of the can­di­dates lin­ing up to run against him, Kelli Ward, a for­mer state sen­a­tor who last month pre­dicted that John Mc­Cain, the state’s se­nior sen­a­tor who is be­ing treated for can­cer, would die soon and said that she should be ap­pointed to re­place him.

The praise for Ward marked a rare pres­i­den­tial in­ter­ven­tion into a pri­mary against an in­cum­bent of his own party — a move al­most cer­tain to in­crease ten­sions.

Gra­ham’s re­sponse was swift.

“You are now re­ceiv­ing praise from some of the most racist and hate-filled in­di­vid­u­als and groups in our coun­try,” Gra­ham tweeted, re­fer­ring to the con­grat­u­la­tory mes­sages Trump re­ceived from for­mer Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. “For the sake of our Na­tion — as our Pres­i­dent — please fix this. His­tory is watch­ing us all.”

Rank-and-file Repub­li­cans, and other party lead­ers, are less likely to be as sharply crit­i­cal. Many re­main hope­ful Trump — or his leg­isla­tive team mem­bers, who are close to Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence — can still help push parts of their agenda to pas­sage.

But the pay­off Repub­li­cans counted on when they backed Trump for pres­i­dent — large-scale leg­isla­tive vic­to­ries with GOP con­trol of the House, Sen­ate and the White House — has not hap­pened.

On Tues­day, he was sup­posed to tout his in­fra­struc­ture plans, but in­stead, blot­ted out any dis­cus­sion of that topic by his de­fense of the marchers in Char­lottesville, who, he said, in­cluded many “very fine peo­ple.”

On Thurs­day, the White House said that plans to form a White House ad­vi­sory coun­cil on in­fra­struc­ture were be­ing shelved.

Trump’s 30 per­cent ap­proval rat­ing isn’t help­ing ei­ther. It leaves the pres­i­dent with­out the po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal he needs to move Congress to ac­tion.

But de­spite their un­hap­pi­ness, the GOP Congress is un­likely to take the sort of ac­tion against Trump that Democrats and out­side groups on the left are de­mand­ing, such as a res­o­lu­tion to cen­sure the pres­i­dent for his state­ments.


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