Speed Reads

Trump v McConnell

There's a strategy behind Trump's risky attacks on Mitch McConnell, allies insist

On Thursday afternoon, President Trump's days of tweeting his frustration at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell came to a head. When a reporter asked Trump if, given his 140-character criticisms of McConnell over the lack of any major legislation hitting his desk, McConnell should consider stepping down, Trump did not say no. "I'll tell you what," he said, "if he doesn't get repeal and replace done and if he doesn't get taxes done, meaning cuts and reform, and if he doesn't get a very easy one to get done, infrastructure — if he doesn't get them done, then you can ask me that question." When asked if that meant yes, Trump said: "That means ask me that question. Let's hope he gets it done."

This Associated Press montage shows Trump's comments about McConnell in context.

Trump was reportedly piqued when he saw some mild criticism from McConnell about Trump's "excessive expectations" on a TV news report, and a Wednesday phone call between the two men did not sooth Trump, since McConnell stood his ground. Several GOP senators issued statements of support for McConnell on Thursday, and many observers noted the risk Trump is taking in attacking the top Senate Republican, in charge of passing any legislation and confirming all nominees. "I may not be clever enough to understand this, but I don't see how a Republican president deepening his fight with the Republican majority leader gets him very far," Newt Gingrich tells The New York Times.

But Trump has vented about McConnell in private too, noting that his poll numbers are still higher than McConnell's and signaling that he's prepared "to distance himself from Republicans in Congress if they aren't successful in passing legislation and that he will not take the blame for them if they can't," Politico reports, citing four White House officials and Trump friends. "Increasingly, these people say, the president is prepared to cast himself as an outsider — and Congress as an 'insider' Washington institution. ... Trump believes that his supporters will largely blame Congress instead of him, two people who have spoken to him said."

There is the added wrinkle that McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, is Trump's transportation secretary, and a reporter asked Trump Thursday if he'd picked Chao to build a bridge to McConnell. "She's doing a very, very good job," Trump said. "I'm very disappointed in Mitch."