GOP nears total exasperation with Trump
Exasperated Republicans in the House and Senate are growing tired of having to defend President Trump.
Daily dramas from the White House are increasingly frustrating Republicans on Capitol Hill and threatening to derail the party’s agenda heading into the midterm elections.
“Can we have a crisis-free day?” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) asked reporters on Monday, according to CNN. “That’s all I’m asking.”
GOP lawmakers kept the president at arm’s length as they reacted to the White House controversy that Trump revealed highly classified information during an Oval Office meeting last week with two Russian officials.
“I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so that we can focus on our agenda, which is deregulations, tax reform and repealing and replacing ObamaCare,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told Bloomberg Live.
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), also a member of GOP leadership, echoed that sentiment, telling reporters, “Less drama from the other end of Pennsylvania would be a good thing.”
There’s no sign of that happening, however.
Even as Republican lawmakers dealt with the latest deluge of questions about Trump’s intelligence disclosures, a new bombshell dropped: Trump reportedly sought to get former FBI Director James Comey to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired after he misled Vice President Pence and other White House officials over his conversations with Russian officials.
A memo Comey wrote about his discussions with Trump leaked to The New York Times. In it, the president told Comey, “I hope you can let this go,” an associate of the former FBI director said.
The disclosure ensures another difficult day on Wednesday for Capitol Hill Republicans, who are repeatedly being asked about Russia’s interference in last year’s election and possible ties between Trump’s team and Moscow.
Thune and Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), speaking before the Comey news, urged Republicans to stay focused on their legislative priorities such as replacing ObamaCare and reforming the tax code instead of a looming “Washington media storm.”
But signs of Republicans breaking with Trump were also becoming more common.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), noting he still needed more information, called the allegations about Trump’s conversations with the Russian officials “weird,” while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said if Trump shared classified information, it would be “deeply disappointing.”
Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) urged the administration to “abandon this fantasy” of a better relationships with Russia.
The mood was perhaps best articulated by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who told reporters on Monday night that the administration is “in a downward spiral right now, and they’ve got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening.”
Corker was speaking before Democrats used the latest revelations about Comey to renew their questions about possible obstruction of justice, first raised when Trump fired Comey last week.
The White House denied The New York Times story about the Comey memo, stating it did not reflect the conversation with the president.
GOP leadership has offered Trump little cover in the wake of the Russian controversy, with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) keeping a low profile on the allegations.
Doug Andres, a spokesman for Ryan, said on Monday night that “we have no way to know what was said, but protecting our nation’s secrets is paramount. The speaker hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration.”
His office added on Tuesday that it didn’t have an update.
McConnell did offer a tepid defense of the White House by referring to national security adviser H.R. McMaster’s statement the previous day. He also brushed off questions about if he was concerned over Trump’s handling of classified information or if he was losing confidence in the president.
At the same time, McConnell made his frustration clear. The GOP leader has repeatedly called on the White House to focus on its agenda, and he has criticized Trump’s Twitter habit.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) separately told reporters that with the constant stream of news from the White House, “obviously it makes it tough to get our agenda done.”
GOP lawmakers signaled on Tuesday that they remained in the dark over the allegations in the Post story. Flake and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who is in leadership and on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said they hadn’t heard from the White House.
Republicans can hardly keep up with Trump’s controversies.
Democratic calls for briefings on Trump’s conversation with the two Russians came as senators awaited a full briefing on Thursday from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Comey’s firing.
There’s also Trump’s threat to Comey that he may have tapes of their conversations. Lawmakers in both parties have said that if the tapes exist, Trump should make them public.
The controversies are particularly worrisome for vulnerable Republicans, who on Tuesday appeared to be seeking some distance from Trump.
“Once again we are faced with inexplicable stories coming from the White House that are highly troubling,” said Rep. Barbara Comstock (Va.), who is a top Democratic target next year.
Not every GOP lawmaker rushed to criticize Trump in the aftermath of the Washington Post report.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) noted with a laugh that he hasn’t seen Trump’s tweets, but told a local radio station, “I know H.R. McMaster pretty well, and if he said the story was false — and I trust H.R.’s word and judgment more than I can anonymous sources.”
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told the Salt Lake Tribune that “of course” he still trusts Trump with classified information.
Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told reporters that how Trump fired Comey “could have been improved” but defended Trump against the latest round of allegations.
“I don’t think he did” disclose information, he added. “Frankly, I think that’s way overblown.”