President Trump’s management style isn’t making him many friends in Congress.
Trump’s habit of bullying his allies has sown seeds of doubt about whether any political sacrifice by a GOP lawmaker will be rewarded — or even remembered — by the president.
Trump’s pointed criticism of Attorney General Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsOPINION | How Trump could fire Sessions, Mueller and still have GOP supportScaramucci fast accruing power in White HouseThe Memo: Justice Department veterans reeling over Sessions dramaMORE, who was the only senator to endorse Trump for much of last year’s presidential campaign, has shocked many GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill who have rallied to their former colleague’s defense.
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamThe Memo: Justice Department veterans reeling over Sessions dramaTrump’s attacks stun Republican senatorsBare bones repeal plan gains steam in SenateMORE (R-S.C.), who served for years with Sessions on the Judiciary Committee, said Trump “belittling and humiliating the attorney general” was “unseemly” and “inappropriate.”
The public shots are “a sign of great weakness on the part of President Trump,” he said.
What bothers lawmakers the most is that Trump seems to want to embarrass his targets.
Some note that Sessions resigned from his safe Senate seat to join the executive branch and work for Trump.
They say it is wrong that Sessions has become a target of the president’s ire for following Justice Department guidelines and recusing himself from oversight of the Russia investigation.
Trump scolded Sessions again on Wednesday in a post on Twitter for not replacing acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, whose wife received contributions from Clinton donors for a state senate campaign.
A day earlier, he told reporters at a White House briefing that he was “disappointed” in the attorney general and left open the possibility that he would fire Sessions.
In another shot heard loud and clear in the Senate, Trump blasted Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiHoward Dean: Murkowski should leave GOP and become a DemTrump administration threatens Alaska after GOP senator’s healthcare votesTrump’s attacks stun Republican senatorsMORE (R-Alaska) on Wednesday after she joined Sen. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsTrump’s attacks stun Republican senatorsDems don’t want to help GOP improve repeal billBare bones repeal plan gains steam in SenateMORE (R-Maine) in voting against a motion to proceed to healthcare legislation despite heavy lobbying from the president.
Trump, who coasted to victory in the presidential election in Alaska but lost Maine, tweeted Wednesday that Murkowski “really let Republicans, and our country, down.”
Murkowski told reporters that Trump’s efforts to ramp up political pressure on her fell flat and that she’s more concerned about taking care of her constituents, who would be hit hard by some of the proposed healthcare changes.
“Quite honestly, I don’t think it’s wise to be operating on a daily basis thinking about what, a statement or a response, that causes you to be fearful of your electoral prospects,” she said. “We’re here to govern. We’re here to legislate. We’re here to represent the people that sent us here.”
Graham was one of several GOP lawmakers who voiced concern over Trump’s attacks on fellow Republicans. Others, however, asked for anonymity to avoid becoming Trump’s next target.
One Republican senator said Trump should have raised his concerns with Sessions and Murkowski in private, instead of pillorying them in front of the entire world.
“He should have handled it one-on-one, and he shouldn’t have done it publicly,” said the lawmaker.
Another senator said Republicans on Capitol Hill know there’s no guarantee that taking a political risk to do the president a favor will be remembered or rewarded in the future.
“That’s self-evident,” said the lawmaker.
That fear makes it less likely that Republicans will be willing to risk their political futures to pass healthcare reform, one of Trump’s major priorities.
“What happens when someone punches you in the nose?” asked a third Republican lawmaker in response to Trump’s attacks on current and former GOP colleagues.
The senator said he would never get away with some of the audacious moves the president has made.
“I couldn’t get away with that. People who do those things aren’t usually successful, but he’s been very successful,” the lawmaker added.
GOP lawmakers, by and large, try to ignore Trump’s barbs but admit sometimes they can’t help talk about the latest uproar he’s causing on Twitter or cable television.
Trump complained about Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulTrump’s attacks stun Republican senatorsOvernight Tech: Trump touts new Wisconsin electronics plant | Lawmakers to unveil email privacy bill | Facebook funds group fighting election hacksBare bones repeal plan gains steam in SenateMORE (R-Ky.), who was not present, at a private dinner with a handful of Republican senators at the White House last week.
Paul found out about it soon after when The New York Times reported on the intimate dinner. The story revealed that Trump was annoyed with the Kentucky senator for going on television to complain about the GOP plan, which he viewed as sabotaging the legislative effort.
Paul brushed off Trump’s jab when asked about it Wednesday.
“In my case, it was mostly in good nature,” he said.
But Trump’s habit of popping off on fellow Republicans makes them uneasy when he jokes about their political futures.
During a meeting at the White House, Trump sat next to Sen. Dean HellerDean HellerTrump’s attacks stun Republican senatorsBare bones repeal plan gains steam in SenateOvernight Healthcare: Senate rejects repeal-only ObamaCare plan | Ads target Heller, Capito over vote | Dem says ObamaCare repeal effort moving US ‘toward single-payer’MORE (R-Nev.), who was a holdout on the pending healthcare bill, and joked, “He wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?”
Heller laughed, but Trump’s track record of attacking allies who diverge from him left other senators wondering if it was entirely a joke.
A fourth GOP senator compared Trump to George Steinbrenner, the late owner of the New York Yankees, who had famously contentious relationships with his team’s managers and stars.
But he said that doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t an effective management style.
“It’s like George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin, they won a few World Series together,” the lawmaker said, referring to the former Yankees manager whom Steinbrenner fired multiple times before rehiring him.
Even Paul, who has butted heads with Trump, admitted that his style has helped shape the healthcare debate.
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