Updated at 2:20 p.m. ET
Not much of significance has gotten through this Congress, despite the House, Senate and White House all being controlled by the same party — Republicans.
President Trump says, don’t blame him.
“We’re not getting the job done. And I’m not going to blame myself, I’ll be honest,” Trump said during short remarks in a Cabinet meeting.
He then shifted away from “we” to “they.”
“They’re not getting the job done,” the president said of Congress.
It’s a continued attempt by Trump to draw a line between him and Republicans in Congress. It’s something that has irritated Republicans, who feel the president hasn’t shown the rigor to understand the details of legislation to adequately sell it.
Trump was asked about his former chief strategist Steve Bannon’s efforts to put up primary challenges to establishment Republicans in Congress. Trump said he understands it and seemed supportive.
“And I can understand where Steve Bannon is coming from,” Trump said, “and I can understand, to be honest with you … I can understand where a lot of people are coming from, because I’m not happy about it. And a lot of people aren’t happy about it.”
Over the weekend, Bannon let loose on congressional Republicans, particularly Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell.
“Up on Capitol Hill, it’s like the Ides of March,” Bannon told the Values Voter Summit. “They’re just looking to find out who is going to be Brutus to your Julius Caesar. We’ve cut your oxygen off, Mitch.”
Later Monday, Trump tried to make a show of unity with McConnell, taking to the Rose Garden of the White House for a joint appearance.
“We’ve been friends for a long time,” Trump stressed, adding, “We’re probably now, despite what we read, closer than ever before.”
McConnell said, as Trump looked on, “We have the same agenda.”
The GOP Senate leader also used the word “friends” and noted they “talk frequently.”
There has been reporting that McConnell and Trump don’t see eye to eye, personally or professionally. They are very different men — Trump is showy and bombastic; McConnell is reserved and likes to work behind the scenes.
But McConnell claimed, “Contrary to what some of you may have reported, we’re together totally on this agenda to move America forward.”
One of Bannon’s requirements to back candidates is that they vote against McConnell as GOP leader.
“It’s not my war,” Bannon added, “this is our war, and y’all didn’t start it, the establishment started it. … Right now, it’s a season of war against a GOP establishment.”
Steven Law, president of the Senate Leadership Fund, a McConnell-aligned superPAC, told NPR Monday that he is not concerned about Bannon’s threats.
“I think this is somebody who talks big, but at the end of the day, I just don’t see it there,” Law told David Greene on NPR’s Morning Edition. “The only thing that’s a concern for us is that we are going to have to divert some resources that we’d otherwise spend beating Democrats to make sure that we don’t nominate candidates who would lose general elections the way they did in 2010 and 2012 before we got involved.”
In those two cycles, five Tea Party challengers won Republican primaries and went on to lose to Democrats in general elections. In 2014, McConnell vowed to crush insurgent primary challengers — and did so. But in the age of Trump, the outsiders hope to be newly ascendant.
“The goal here is to win elections in November,” McConnell said, pointing out that the candidates in 2010 and 2012 “didn’t appeal to a broader electorate.”
“Winners make policy and losers go home,” McConnell added.
Law told NPR that the problem for the party goes beyond Bannon. “At the end of the day,” Law said, “I think our problem right now is not a Steve Bannon problem. It’s a product problem.”
The man whose face would be on the label of that product is the president. But Trump has tried to insulate his brand by taking credit for executive actions while attempting to separate himself from congressional failures.
And Trump did not wave Bannon off — even when given a second chance to do so in the Cabinet meeting.
“There are some Republicans frankly that should be ashamed of themselves,” Trump said.
He added that “most of them” are “really really great people. … So I can understand fully how Steve Bannon feels.”
While standing next to McConnell, Trump added, “Steve is doing what Steve thinks is the right thing.”
He seemed to soften his earlier remarks, saying it’s possible that “some of the people maybe we talk him out of that.”
Trump added that “with the exception of a very small few,” he has a “great relationship” with many congressional Republicans.
“I like and respect most of them,” he said. He stressed: “The Republican Party is very, very unified.”
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