GOP agenda takes hit after Trump tirade
President alienates Republicans after his outburst over violence in Charlottesville
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.