While House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is giving a beleaguered President Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt, Ryan's Senate counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., seems so over this president.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that Trump is upset McConnell couldn't pass the health-care overhaul and couldn't save Trump from an escalating Russia investigation. CNN reports the two leaders haven't spoken in two weeks, as Congress gets ready to return for a hellish, high-stakes month full of political land mines.
In a statement Wednesday, McConnell said: "The President and I, and our teams, have been and continue to be in regular contact about our shared goals."
That's not exactly a ringing endorsement pf the president, though.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
This is a remarkable moment for the Republican Party and for American politics in general. Just seven months after the GOP took full control of Washington, the Senate leader isn't even talking with his party's president. They're closer to political enemies than allies right now. Why? Here are 10 reasons.
1. Trump has little regard for Senate rules: Trump has made clear he wants to get rid of the minority party's ability to block legislation that doesn't have 60 out of 100 votes. McConnell, and nearly every other senator, thinks that's a terrible idea. The filibuster is what makes the Senate the Senate, compared to the majority rules House.
Getting rid of the filibuster for legislation would "fundamentally change the way the Senate has worked for a very long time," McConnell told reporters in May. "We're not going to do that."
Trump keeps pushing it anyway. This is a particular is a jab at McConnell, who prides himself on being a steward of the rules of the Senate. Yes, he reluctantly got rid of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees earlier this year, but he rationalized that by pointing out that Democrats undid the filibuster for lower-court nominees.
2. Trump played little to no role in the health-care bill drama: When House Republicans passed their version of a health-care bill in May, Trump celebrated with them in the Rose Garden. Then behind closed doors, he called it "mean."
So, wait. Does the president like this bill or hate it? Senate Republicans who were trying to write and pass their own bill were left to guess. Aides said Trump gave them no direction, which meant they crafted a bill behind closed doors and then had to cross their fingers that Trump wouldn't dis it.
3. Trump looks ready to support Jeff Flake's challenger: Besides passing legislation, McConnell's job description is to keep his fellow Republican senators elected. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., is one of two vulnerable Senate Republicans in next year's midterms, so getting him reelected is McConnell's priority. But Trump seems to have the opposite goal. Since Flake released a book blaming his party for the rise of Trump, Trump has tweeted support for one of Flake's primary challengers, former state Sen. Kelli Ward. He's mused about spending $10 million of his own money to unseat Flake. And a Trump-aligned donor has given $300,000 to Ward's campaign.
At a Phoenix rally Tuesday, Trump said Flake — without mentioning his name — was "weak" on borders.
McConnell's team responded by attacking Ward in an ad as a conspiracy theorist.
4. Trump publicly challenged Dean Heller, too: The other vulnerable GOP senator in 2018 is Sen. Dean Heller, Nev. Would it surprise you to hear Trump has gone after him, too? During the health-care debate, Heller said he couldn't vote for a proposed bill. A pro-Trump group launched TV and radio ads attacking Heller for it: "Call Sen. Heller and tell him to keep his promise to repeal and replace Obamacare — before it's too late."
5. Actually, Trump has demonstrated no loyalty to Senate Republicans: Party matters much less to Trump than loyalty. Trump's M.O. is: If you cross me, I'll go after you no matter which side you're on.
6. Trump shows no interest in understanding how Congress works: I'll let McConnell, making remarks at a local event in Kentucky earlier this month, explain this one:
"Our new president, of course, has not been in this line of work before. And I think he had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process. So part of the reason I think people feel we're underperforming is because too many artificial deadlines — unrelated to the reality of the complexity of legislating — may not have been fully understood."
7. Trump publicly attacked McConnell: Trump was not happy with McConnell's assessment of his legislative skills. So he spent about a week firing of tweets like this:
"Senator Mitch McConnell said I had "excessive expectations," but I don't think so. After 7 years of hearing Repeal & Replace, why not done?" he tweeted on Aug. 9.
"Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn't get it done. Must Repeal & Replace ObamaCare!" Trump tweeted on Aug. 10.
McConnell's been in politics long enough to brush off the attacks. But he probably understands just how counterproductive it is for the party to have its president publicly attacking a senior member of Congress.
8. Trump can't stay on message: This isn't new, but it's probably getting very old for McConnell. Trump has an uncanny ability to undermine the Republican Party's message at the least-convenient moment. As a Washington Post story pointed out, the media was just starting to move on from covering Trump's equivocation of white supremacists with counterprotesters when Trump spent 30 minutes of a 90-minute rally complaining about the media coverage of him.
9. Trump tweets. A lot.
"I've been pretty candid with him and all of you that I'm not a fan of the daily tweets," McConnell said for the zillionth time in February.
10. His wife has the world's most awkward job: Trump's transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, is McConnell's wife. Trump's notorious news conference last week where he refused to denounce white supremacists was supposed to be about infrastructure, and Chao was forced to stand next to Trump, stone faced, during it all.
"I stand by my man — both of them," she told reporters recently.