What's Dividing Trump And McConnell

Aug 24, 2017
Originally published on August 24, 2017 8:42 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell do not seem to be on the best terms these days.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

No. Trump has been making digs at McConnell ever since he failed to pass a Republican health care bill last month. And McConnell responded.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: Our new president has, of course, not been in this line of work before and, I think, had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process.

CHANG: Well, the president then scolded right back. And the feud has gotten so bad that the two have reportedly not spoken in weeks. But then yesterday, the White House, attempting some damage control, issued a statement saying Trump and McConnell remain united on many shared priorities.

GREENE: Let's talk about this with NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Good morning, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: Is this an important relationship?

MONTANARO: Of course it's an important relationship. I mean, if the president of the United States wants to get anything done legislatively, he's going to need Mitch McConnell. You need the Senate majority leader because he sets the agenda. He puts all the policy on the floor. And if you continue to berate your colleagues in Congress, that can make for some difficult relationships and make it even harder on some of these sensitive negotiations going on on things like tax reform.

GREENE: And not to mention the expectation. I mean, you have one party controlling both the White House and Congress. I think there was a lot of pressure on these men to get along and to get an agenda done.

MONTANARO: Absolutely. They have to get something done. Now, you know, President Trump in his Phoenix rally went after both of the senators in Arizona, Jeff Flake and John McCain - if not by name than by deed - and talked about McCain because they came up one vote short. And he's been needling senator - Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Twitter, saying that if Republican - if the Republican Senate doesn't get rid of the filibuster rule and go to a simple majority, and he says which Democrats would do, they're just wasting time. Of course, that one vote that was short was of a majority and not of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

GREENE: Right. Well, so where is there the most daylight when it comes to President Trump and then McConnell and some of the other Republicans on the Hill?

MONTANARO: I think this filibuster is the big - is a big piece of that, but, you know, it's not a policy issue. I mean, this is one of politics, you know, of how to go about dealing with the Senate. And it just seems that Trump is playing politics here to try to separate himself from Congress, from even Republicans in Congress to solidify his own base and to insulate him.

GREENE: Is that dangerous for the president? I mean. Does he have more to lose here than McConnell, or is there a political argument that this could be wise for the Trump White House to do this?

MONTANARO: Well, I mean, first of all, this is a big potential bomb that could go off but, you know, for both sides. I mean, the fact of the matter is if Trump continues to needle members of his own party or if he goes even further and not only with Jeff Flake, for example, the Arizona senator, you know, indicating support for Flake's primary opponent, if he were to do that across a series of primaries against various incumbents, that could imperil Mitch McConnell's majority in Congress - in the Senate, rather. And that would be not only a problem for McConnell and his hold on his caucus but on - for Trump as well because if he wants to get anything done, he needs that majority.

GREENE: Can we also take a moment to note how awkward this has to be for Elaine Chao? I mean, she is the wife of Mitch McConnell, but she is also the U.S. transportation secretary under President Trump. And I just want to play a little bit of what she said.

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ELAINE CHAO: I stand by my man - both of them.

GREENE: (Laughter) There's something about that. Does a song come to mind for you, Domenico?

MONTANARO: Well, you know, that's Tammy Wynette's "Stand By My Man (ph)," but that - I don't think she's saying about both of them. This was, you know, she's saying about one person, you know. And the fact of the matter is it does put Elaine Chao in somewhat of an awkward position, but she's a political pro. She's been around a long time. And I think that was an effective way for her to kind of release a little bit of a pressure valve and make everyone kind of laugh about it.

GREENE: Yeah. Sometimes we need a laugh in Washington. NPR political editor Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.