Senate Republicans made it clear Tuesday: They’re fed up with all the Trump White House missteps – and they’ll proceed to work on health care, federal spending and other big priorities largely on their own.
GOP lawmakers have been treading gingerly for months when dealing with President Donald Trump. Few were ardent supporters during party primaries last year, and so far in 2017 his behavior has had them on edge.
But the past week has been close to the last straw. Republicans control 52 of the 100 Senate seats, meaning it takes only three defections to a usually united Democratic caucus to defy a Trump initiative or nominee. It hasn’t happened much thus far, but key GOP senators have been exasperated since last week’s firing of FBI Director James Comey.
And now this, Monday’s revelation of a leak by the president himself of classified information to Russian diplomats.
“I think it would be helpful to have less drama in the White House,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who chooses his words very carefully, told reporters Wednesday.
He was speaking in an echo chamber.
“These are daily — not daily, hopefully, but it seems like lately, daily — distractions,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. “You just have to manage it around it.”
While some of the president’s usual Senate allies held their fire, his usual Republican critics were unsparing.
“Regrettably, the time President Trump spent sharing sensitive information with the Russians was time he did not spend focusing on Russia’s aggressive behavior in U.S. and European elections and elsewhere,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “Sanctions — not intelligence-sharing — should be our course of action.”
What all this means is that Trump is headed for a rough time getting his agenda through the Senate. Lawmakers are huddling almost daily to discuss ways to write legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare. Monday night, three Democrats joined Republicans for the talks.
Rep. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he met with moderate Republicans to see whether “there’s a pathway forward.” He said Democrats “won’t vote for any type of a repeal, but I think there would be 48 Democrats willing to work on some repairing and fixing. We’re listening to a lot of things.”
Republicans have been discussing health care policy in depth at their weekly Tuesday caucus meetings. Vice President Mike Pence has been attending, though he was absent this Tuesday because he was at the White House with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Pence spokesman Marc Lotter said the vice president attended the weekly lunch “when available” and spoke to members on the phone and in small-group dinners at the vice presidential residence.
But Republicans are largely proceeding on their own. “I put blinders on, and I focus on the task at hand,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., a key player in the health care debate, when asked about the Trump controversies.
A bigger hurdle for Trump will be the federal budget. The White House is expected to send Congress a detailed blueprint of its plans for fiscal 2018, which begins Oct. 1, next week. It’s expected to include several big cuts in popular domestic programs, cuts many Republicans are signaling they’re unlikely to accept.
Trump’s plan to slash federal funding for medical research will go nowhere, thanks to opposition from powerful Republican lawmakers.
For instance, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., who chair key committees that set funding levels for the National Institutes of Health, have said they’ll reject Trump’s plans to slash funding for medical research.
Congress has to pass 12 spending bills by Sept. 30 and senators have pledged to pass their own Obamacare repeal bill sometime in the next three months.
They also have to raise the debt ceiling and reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration by then.
Some did welcome Trump’s input on legislation.
“He can still help,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.
But others were circumspect.
“He’s still president of the United States,” said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. “We have a constitutional responsibility as well. That hasn’t changed, either.”
Lesley Clark, Lindsay Wise and Matthew Schofield contributed to this article.