McCon­nell, Trump spat has fel­low Repub­li­cans pick­ing sides

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI

Pres­i­dent Trump said Thurs­day that Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell’s fail­ure to get an Oba­macare re­peal bill across the fin­ish line was a dis­grace and that the Repub­li­can leader must start notch­ing some wins or else it will be time to talk about oust­ing him.

Days af­ter Mr. McCon­nell chided the pres­i­dent as a po­lit­i­cal novice, Mr. Trump said he was stunned by Se­nate Repub­li­cans’ in­abil­ity to pass the same re­peal they cleared two years ago be­fore Pres­i­dent Obama ve­toed it.

“I just want him to get re­peal-and-re­place done,” Mr. Trump said. “They lost by one vote. For a thing like that to hap­pen is a dis­grace, and frankly it shouldn’t have hap­pened — that I can tell you.”

When prod­ded on whether Mr. McCon­nell should step down as ma­jor­ity leader, Mr.

Trump said that ques­tion can be asked if the Ken­tucky Repub­li­can fails to de­liver on health care, tax re­form and an in­fra­struc­ture pack­age.

The open ver­bal war­fare be­tween Mr. Trump and one of the two most pow­er­ful Repub­li­cans on Capi­tol Hill has riven their party, with rank-and-file law­mak­ers and po­ten­tial can­di­dates pick­ing sides.

Sen. Or­rin G. Hatch of Utah, the most se­nior Repub­li­can in the up­per cham­ber, backed Mr. McCon­nell, call­ing him the best Repub­li­can leader in decades, but a host of can­di­dates plot­ting runs for of­fice sided with Mr. Trump.

The Se­nate ma­jor­ity leader sparked the bat­tle on Mon­day when he told a Ro­tary Club in Ken­tucky that Mr. Trump, as a po­lit­i­cal neo­phyte, doesn’t un­der­stand the pace of the leg­isla­tive process. He said the time­lines the White House set for leg­isla­tive wins over­hyped ex­pec­ta­tions, which his cham­ber hasn’t been able to meet.

Mr. McCon­nell point­edly shot down yet an­other time­line this week, dis­miss­ing the White House’s stated goal of hav­ing a tax code re­write in the Se­nate in Novem­ber.

“I’m not go­ing to tell you when we are go­ing to fin­ish tax re­form, but we’ll fin­ish it. That’s the way we be­gin to change Amer­ica,” Mr. McCon­nell said, ac­cord­ing to the North­ern Ken­tucky Tri­bune.

Mr. Trump ap­peared to heap more pres­sure on Mr. McCon­nell on Thurs­day at his New Jersey golf club, where he is tak­ing a work­ing va­ca­tion and where re­porters pep­pered him with ques­tions about whether he wants Mr. McCon­nell to be ousted.

“I’ll tell you what: If he doesn’t get re­peal-an­dreplace done and if he doesn’t get taxes done, mean­ing cuts and re­form, and if he doesn’t get a very easy one to get done — in­fra­struc­ture — if he doesn’t get them done, then you can ask me that ques­tion,” the pres­i­dent said.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, the other top leader on Capi­tol Hill, ap­pears to be keep­ing pace with the White House’s sched­ule. Soon af­ter Mr. Trump spoke, Mr. Ryan’s of­fice sent a memo call­ing 2017 “the year of tax re­form.”

Mr. McCon­nell’s of­fice re­ferred sched­ul­ing ques­tions to the Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, where Mr. Hatch is chair­man. The com­mit­tee pointed to com­ments from Mr. Hatch last week say­ing he ex­pected bills to move through rel­e­vant com­mit­tees this fall.

As for Mr. McCon­nell, Mr. Hatch left no ques­tion about his sup­port. He called Mr. McCon­nell “the best leader we’ve had in my time in the Se­nate.”

“I fully sup­port him,” Mr. Hatch said on Twit­ter. Sen. Jeff Flake, Ari­zona Repub­li­can and a prom­i­nent critic of Mr. Trump, also said he sup­ports Mr. McCon­nell, say­ing on Twit­ter that he “does a tough job well.”

But a host of can­di­dates plot­ting runs for of­fice and con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists are sid­ing with Mr. Trump.

The Se­nate Con­ser­va­tives Fund called for Repub­li­cans to re­place Mr. McCon­nell for fail­ing to ad­vance the party’s agenda. Although the Se­nate has re­pealed Obama-era reg­u­la­tions and con­firmed a Supreme Court jus­tice, it stum­bled over Oba­macare, has yet to take up any of the im­mi­gra­tion crack­down bills that cleared the House and is months over­due on pass­ing a 2018 bud­get.

“It isn’t un­rea­son­able to ex­pect Repub­li­cans to keep their prom­ises, and McCon­nell’s ex­cuse is yet an­other ex­am­ple of why he should be re­placed as the Repub­li­can leader,” Con­ser­va­tives Fund chief Ken Cuc­cinelli said in an email blast. “Tell Se­nate Repub­li­cans to re­place him now!”

Repub­li­cans look­ing to run for the Se­nate are also sid­ing with Mr. Trump in his dis­pute with Mr. McCon­nell.

“Why would any­one think it is too high ex­pec­ta­tions to ac­tu­ally vote on it now that you have a pres­i­dent who will sign it?” Danny Tarka­nian, who is mount­ing a pri­mary chal­lenge to Repub­li­can Sen. Dean Heller in Ne­vada, said on Fox News. “Of course I sup­port the pres­i­dent’s po­si­tion.”

Some House Repub­li­cans, who la­bored to pass an Oba­macare re­peal bill in May, also have ques­tioned Mr. McCon­nell’s lead­er­ship in re­cent weeks and lament that the Se­nate’s in­ac­tion is mak­ing all Repub­li­cans look bad.

“This isn’t the pres­i­dent’s fault,” Rep. Sean P. Duffy, Wis­con­sin Repub­li­can, said Thurs­day on Fox Busi­ness Net­work. “This sits squarely within in the Se­nate and their in­abil­ity to pass a health care bill and, frankly, many other bills that we brought to them through the House.”

“So I think the pres­i­dent’s right here, and he should push back,” Mr. Duffy said.

For­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich, who has been one of Mr. Trump’s most vo­cal sup­port­ers, tried to defuse the spat. He said both sides share blame by re­peat­edly fail­ing to muster votes for change.

Three Repub­li­can se­na­tors — Su­san M. Collins of Maine, John Mc­Cain of Ari­zona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — sided with all 48 Democrats to doom Mr. McCon­nell’s lat­est try at health care leg­is­la­tion, which many se­na­tors were hop­ing would keep the process mov­ing.

“It was a col­lec­tive fail­ure. Both the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Repub­li­cans in the Se­nate failed, but to get in­volved in shoot­ing at each other when there were 16 Democrats vot­ing no for ev­ery sin­gle Repub­li­can who voted no is goofy,” Mr. Gin­grich said on Fox News.

Mr. Trump was quick to say that his dis­sat­is­fac­tion with Mr. McCon­nell doesn’t ex­tend to the sen­a­tor’s wife, Elaine L. Chao, who is Mr. Trump’s trans­porta­tion sec­re­tary.

“We’re very proud of Elaine as sec­re­tary of trans­porta­tion, as you know. She’s do­ing a very good job,” he said. “I’m very dis­ap­pointed in Mitch. If he gets th­ese bills passed, I’ll be very happy with him and I’ll be the first to ad­mit it.”

Mr. Trump is press­ing Repub­li­cans to try again on Oba­macare re­peal, but Se­nate lead­ers said they have given up for now. Mr. McCon­nell sig­naled that he would try to shore up the strug­gling 2010 health care law by ask­ing Democrats to help.

The pres­i­dent also is con­sid­er­ing work­ing with Democrats on in­fra­struc­ture, an­other of his ma­jor agenda items.

“I want a very big in­fra­struc­ture bill,” he said Thurs­day. “We may even get bi­par­ti­san on in­fra­struc­ture.”

Asked later to elab­o­rate, he said there might even be “more sup­port from the Democrats.”

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