President Trump’s relationship with Senate Republicans is deteriorating by the day.
Senate Republicans are getting fed up with what they see as Trump’s lack of discipline and chaotic leadership style. Several are criticizing him more openly than ever before.
The sharpest critique came from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerOPINION: Congress should censure Trump for his unfit conduct How to fix Fannie and Freddie to give Americans affordable housing No. 2 Senate Republican backs McConnell in Trump fight MORE (R-Tenn.), who told constituents in Chattanooga that Trump “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence, that he needs to demonstrate in order for him to be successful.”
GOP strategists say Corker was likely unhappy with Trump’s improvised line a week and a half ago about how threats from North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
Trump’s comment was one of the latest examples of an unscripted moment undermining his administration’s or his party’s more carefully crafted strategy.
“I suspect the fire and fury business got Corker’s attention because that came out of nowhere,” said Rich Galen, a Republican strategist, who called Corker “a truly decent man” who has “just had enough.”
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) on Friday criticized Trump for not unequivocally condemning the white supremacists who clashed with liberal protesters in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend.
“Any time he steps up and tries to equate two groups or two conversations, I think that muddies the water,” Lankford said of Trump. “I just think you need to be very, very clear with the statements and how they’re made.”
Meanwhile, senators have rallied behind Sen. Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeOPINION: Congress should censure Trump for his unfit conduct Club for Growth endorses Nicholson in Wisconsin GOP primary Immigration battlefield widens for Trump, GOP MORE (R-Ariz.), one of Trump’s most outspoken critics, after the president tweeted Thursday morning that he was glad to see that conservative candidate Kelli Ward is running against him in the GOP primary. Trump called Flake “toxic.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellTrump’s isolation grows Ellison: Trump has ‘level of sympathy’ for neo-Nazis, white supremacists Trump touts endorsement of second-place finisher in Alabama primary MORE (R-Ky.) fired back.
“Jeff Flake is an excellent Senator and a tireless advocate for Arizona and our nation. He has my full support,” McConnell tweeted through his campaign account.
It was a clear admonishment of the president, coming a week after Trump torched the Senate leader on Twitter for not passing ObamaCare repeal legislation in July.
While McConnell carefully avoided confrontations with Trump during the presidential campaign, their relationship has frayed in recent weeks.
McConnell allies have criticized Trump for at times undermining the GOP’s messaging strategy during the healthcare debate, and last week McConnell told constituents that the president had “excessive expectations” about how fast things can get done in Congress.
McConnell also this week came out with a forceful statement condemning white-power groups in Charlottesville, which media outlets quickly seized on as a counterpoint to Trump’s response.
Sen. John McCainJohn McCainBush biographer: Trump has moved the goalpost for civilized society White House to pressure McConnell on ObamaCare McCain: Trump needs to state difference between bigots and those fighting hate MORE (R-Ariz.), who late last month cast the decisive vote against a “skinny” ObamaCare repeal bill, one of Trump’s top priorities, also came to Flake’s side.
“@JeffFlake is a principled legislator & always does what’s right for the people of #AZ,” McCain tweeted shortly after Trump’s criticism.
Flake has long been one of Trump’s biggest critics in the GOP, and he released a book this month that calls on fellow members of the GOP to stand up to the president.
In the book, Flake warns that “conservatism has become compromised by other powerful forces — nationalism, populism, xenophobia” as reflected by Trump’s rise to power.
He wrote that Trump’s “seeming affection for strongmen and authoritarians” has created “a cognitive dissonance among my generations of conservatives.”
McCain, another frequent critic of Trump, clashed with the president earlier in the week when he called on him to push back against the attacks of alt-right critics targeting national security adviser H.R. McMaster.
Trump casually dismissed McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, when asked about his comments at a press conference Tuesday, asking sarcastically, “You mean Senator McCain who voted against us getting good healthcare?”
Earlier in the week, it was Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamGraham: Trump’s Charlottesville rhetoric ‘dividing Americans, not healing them’ OPINION: Congress should censure Trump for his unfit conduct Supporting ‘Dreamers’ is our civic and moral duty MORE (R-S.C.) who chastised Trump. He said Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, in which he condemned “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” had only encouraged white supremacist groups.
“For the sake of our nation — as our president — please fix this,” Graham pleaded.
In response, Trump slammed Graham as “publicity seeking” and argued that he had falsely accused him of stating a moral equivalency between neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-racist activists.
GOP strategists say Republican senators have become more emboldened in their criticism of Trump because he has often shown them little respect or mocked them openly.
Brian Phillips, a former Senate aide and Republican strategist, say that lawmakers usually find more subtle ways to criticize and send messages to members of their own party, but that “flies out the window with Trump because he’s not above singling members out and attacking them.”
“Because there isn’t this mutual respect back and forth, I think you’ll see people like Jeff Flake and Lindsey Graham and others lose some of that restraint,” he said.
Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiFeds to sell 14 million barrels from oil reserve Immigration battlefield widens for Trump, GOP Trump barrage stuns McConnell and his allies MORE (R-Alaska), one of three Republicans who voted against the healthcare bill that Trump wanted badly, was furious after the president criticized her publicly and threatened to cut programs for Alaska after she opposed a procedural motion to begin the healthcare debate.
Things got so heated at one point that Murkowski, the chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, postponed a markup for six Trump administration nominees.
House Republicans, by comparison, have generally been more reticent about criticizing or pushing back against the president.
While Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP chairman to discuss Charlottesville as domestic terrorism at hearing Trump’s isolation grows GOP lawmaker: Trump ‘failing’ in Charlottesville response MORE (R-Wis.) criticized Trump several times during last year’s presidential campaign — calling the candidate’s attacks on a federal judge because of his Mexican-American background the textbook definition of racism — he has kept on good terms with the president this year.
Ryan has made it a policy of not responding to reporters’ questions about Trump’s daily tweets, though he veered from that policy over two of the president’s more controversial statements.
The Speaker tweeted on Tuesday that “there can be no moral ambiguity” in responding to bigotry and white supremacy, in a seeming rejoinder to Trump’s statements that blamed both sides in Charlottesville for the violence there.
Ryan in June said Trump’s mockery of Mika Brzezinski, the co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” was not appropriate, after the president claimed she had a low IQ and was “bleeding badly” from cosmetic surgery when she visited him at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
But in general, Trump has stronger support in the House, where GOP lawmakers tend to represent more conservative constituencies.
“Senators clearly are more visible elected officials, and almost all of them have more heterogeneous constituencies than House members. They have to appeal to a broader segment of the electorate than do House members, especially those in gerrymandered congressional districts,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres.