After President Trump repeatedly criticized Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this week for legislative incompetence — going so far as to broach the possibility of his removal if he doesn’t start delivering results — lawmakers leapt to the Kentuckian’s defense.
Senator after senator tweeted support for McConnell, from stalwart party loyalists like Texas’s John Cornyn to more independent voices like Maine’s Susan Collins, who just two weeks ago helped torpedo McConnell’s plan to repeal Obamacare.
At least one senator pointed out that McConnell had already given Republicans a conservative Supreme Court justice, thanks to his unprecedented strategy of judicial blockade after the death of Antonin Scalia.
McConnell got under Trump’s skin on Monday when, in remarks to a Rotary Club in his home state of Kentucky, he accused the president of an overly rosy outlook about what Congress could accomplish, and how quickly.
“Now our new president has of course not been in this line of work before. And I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process,” McConnell said. “And so, part of the reason I think people feel like we’re underperforming is because too many artificial deadlines unrelated to the reality and the complexity of legislature may not have been fully understood.”
Trump responded harshly in a series of tweets on Wednesday and Thursday:
“I am very disappointed in Mitch,” Trump reiterated in a freewheeling quasi–press conference from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Thursday. “But if he gets these bills passed I will be very happy with him. I will be the first to admit it.”
McConnell has thus far stayed silent in response to Trump’s fusillades.
Unlike Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was also recently attacked by Trump and was also fiercely defended by a wide range of Republicans, McConnell is not beloved by Trump’s rabid base; rather, he is often seen as an embodiment of “the swamp” Trump promised to drain. And when Trump complains about McConnell’s inability to repeal the Affordable Care Act after seven years of promises, he has a fair point. It’s true that the GOP wielded the promised destruction of Obamacare as a powerful campaign tool even when they knew it was a fantasy, and that they couldn’t fulfill their promise once they actually got the chance to deliver. Even McConnell’s protestation about an unrealistic timeline rings hollow, as Eric Levitz wrote on Wednesday:
… Congressional Republicans’ initial plan was to repeal Obamacare almost immediately upon taking office, and then draft a replacement over the ensuing months. President Trump actually intervened to slow down that effort back in January, when he demanded Republicans repeal and replace the health-care law simultaneously.
Further, the “artificial deadlines” Paul Ryan and McConnell embraced when pushing Trumpcare had less to do with the president’s grandiose expectations, than with the historic unpopularity of the GOP bill. McConnell worked feverishly to pass his health-care legislation out of the Senate before the July 4 recess, out of concern that the more his colleagues heard from their constituents, the less willing they’d be to vote for a bill that would condemn thousands of Americans to preventable deaths. As Lindsey Graham infamously put it, “This [bill] is not like a fine wine — it doesn’t get better over time.”
But while Trump’s critiques are unusual in that they actually possess some merit, his political strategy is — shocker — mostly just stupid. It is obvious that he needs McConnell’s help to pass any major legislation, which he has so far been unable to do. Given Trump’s own unpopularity, senators’ general aversion to taking marching orders, and their often-personal dislike for the president, his threats probably won’t work as a tactic to spur McConnell on infrastructure, tax reform, or the other presidential priorities that look increasingly imperiled. Trump’s attempt at buck-passing may work to an extent, but it won’t change the fact that he has gotten very little done beside emboldening racists and scaring immigrants.
Oh, and Mitch McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, works directly for Trump, so that’s awkward.