Republicans’ blame game not helping with agenda

  • President Donald Trump speaks as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, left, looks on during a meeting on June 6. tns file photo

Tribune Washington Bureau
Friday, August 11, 2017

WASHINGTON — Republicans tried, after the collapse of their long campaign to end Obamacare, to put a good face forward as they pressed on to tax reform and other issues on their ambitious legislative agenda. But they just couldn’t help themselves.

The blame game launched quickly. Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., suggested that the House had done its job, but colleagues in the Senate had failed to deliver.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., unwilling to shoulder all the blame, passed some of it off to the White House, saying President Donald Trump was so new to politics that he had “excessive expectations” about how Washington works.

And then Trump — who had already been busy scolding Republicans in tweets — unleashed a fresh round of attacks over the last several days, stopping just short of calling for McConnell to resign.

Trump’s criticisms could also heighten the fear Republican lawmakers already have that he will not back them up if they take unpopular votes. Those worries became more widespread earlier this summer after Trump urged House Republicans to approve the leadership’s bill to repeal Obamacare and then openly criticized the measure as “mean.”

The sniping between Trump and congressional leaders also worsens the risk of Republican losses in next year’s midterm elections. Congress already suffers from dismal approval ratings, but convincing voters that lawmakers are ineffective could dampen Republican turnout and further harm the party’s chances of retaining control of the House.

A Gallup poll released Wednesday showed that the number of Republicans who approve of Congress’ work has plunged. At the start of the year, half of Republicans said they approved of Congress; now only about 1 in 6 say the same. As if all that were not enough, the infighting comes at a particularly inopportune time for congressional leaders. When lawmakers return to work in September, they will have just days to act to avert a potential financial crisis and federal shutdown, needing to pass legislation to raise the government’s debt ceiling and fund federal agencies before they can begin to make progress on goals such as tax reform.

Trump, as he often does, escalated the sniping to a new level. The president started with a series of tweets and jumped to suggestions that without better legislative results, it might be time for the Senate leader to step down.

Trump appears to have accepted no blame for his inability to influence Republican lawmakers whose votes he needs, especially those in the Senate. Instead, the president has chosen to rally his most dedicated supporters as his popularity among others drops, shifting blame to the Washington “swamp,” as embodied in Congress.

McConnell’s allies, who are many in the Senate, quickly rallied to his support, knowing that the majority leader — perhaps even more than Ryan — remains the most powerful leader in Congress.