Republicans Aren't Turning on Trump—They're Turning on Each Other
With progress stalled on the GOP’s policy priorities, frustration is rising on Capitol Hill. But the White House isn’t taking the bulk of the blame.
The House is mad at the Senate. The Senate is mad at the House. Various factions in the House and Senate are mad at each other or mad at their leaders.
Republican lawmakers have yet to turn on President Trump in any meaningful way. But they’re starting to turn on each other.
On Monday, the Republicans’ tortured health-care effort hit a seemingly permanent snag. But that was only the latest blow; after half a year of consolidated GOP control, not a single major piece of legislation has been enacted. With other priorities similarly stalled, legislators’ frustration is mounting.
“We’re in charge, right? We have the House, the Senate, and the White House,” one GOP member of Congress told me. “Everyone’s still committed to making progress on big issues, but the more time goes by, the more difficult that becomes. And then the blame game starts.”
The House blames the Senate: At a press conference last week, Kevin McCarthy, the majority leader, waved a chart of 226 House-passed bills that the Senate hasn’t taken up. “We will continue to do our work here, and we hope the Senate continues to do their work as we move forward,” McCarthy said pointedly.
Some new members blame their elders. A freshman congressman from Michigan, Paul Mitchell, got a dozen of his fellow newbies to co-sign an op-ed that urges the Senate to get moving, implicitly calling out their senior colleagues for forgetting what they were sent to Washington to do. “Failure to do so is a failure to follow the will of our voters,” the freshmen wrote in their article published Tuesday.
For its part, the Senate blames the House. A Russia sanctions bill passed the upper chamber with 98 votes a month ago, but it has yet to come to the floor in the House. That prompted Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to accuse the House of “dilly dallying” and “a ridiculous waste of time.”
House leaders say procedural issues and Democrats have tied up the legislation, which the White House opposes. Some members, however, suspect that House leadership is purposely slow-walking the bill to avoid embarrassing the president. A spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan denied that was the case, telling me the White House’s position on the issue was “not a factor” in the bill’s fate.
Though little heralded, the sanctions bill could mark a moment of truth for White House-congressional relations. If sent to President Trump’s desk, the bill would amount to a rebuke of the president’s Russia policy, one he would surely be loath to sign. But given the Russia scandal swirling around Trump, a veto would be explosive. And if the GOP Congress overrode such a veto, the president’s clout would be severely diminished.
Meanwhile, many senators are annoyed with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for the rushed, secretive process that produced the health-care bill, and for threatening to cancel their August vacation for a potentially fruitless legislative session. And everyone is annoyed with the House Freedom Caucus, which has also demanded that lawmakers spend next month in D.C.
But everyone is always mad at the Freedom Caucus. Divisions between Republican factions are nothing new; nor is friction between the House and Senate. In an oft-repeated fable, a new Republican member of Congress, eager to go after the “enemy” Democrats, is corrected by an old bull: “The Democrats are the opposition,” he says. “The Senate is the enemy.”
Still, some wonder whether the current sniping isn’t better directed to Pennsylvania Avenue, where the scandal-mired president creates new headaches with every passing day. “We’re a big-tent party, so of course there are divisions,” the member of Congress told me. “But the only thing that could unite the clans is consistent and engaged leadership from the president. And it’s fair to say we’ve gotten mixed signals.”
A House Republican staffer described the fractious mood on Capitol Hill as “Republican-on-Republican violence.” As for why lawmakers don’t train their ire on the real root of their problems, the staffer shrugged: “Maybe it’s just easier to attack people without 13 million Twitter followers.”