GOP establishment lawmakers are reportedly getting jumpy as they struggle to get on board with President Trump’s efforts to “drain the swamp” — and are considering distancing themselves from Trump in order to push “a more traditional Republican agenda.”
As Trump has upended a number of Washington conventions, upset the media with his straight-talking, and refused to bow to Democratic and establishment narratives, Republicans used to the normal way of conducting business have not been shy about expressing their concerns.
But now, amid a media-made storm-in-a-teacup over the firing of FBI Director James Comey, some lawmakers are reportedly feeling the heat and are planning to throw Trump’s populist agenda overboard to save their own skins.
The New York Times reported Sunday that Republicans are getting ready to break away from Trump and “forge a more traditional Republican agenda and protect their political fortunes.”
Several Republicans have openly questioned Mr. Trump’s decision to fire the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and even lawmakers who supported the move have complained privately that it was poorly timed and disruptive to their work. Many were dismayed when Mr. Trump seemed to then threaten Mr. Comey not to leak negative information about him.
The Times reported that senators have decided to ignore White House efforts to help with the already-unpopular Republican healthcare bill, and are threatening to oppose Trump’s moves to possibly pull out of NAFTA — a stance that helped Trump win over key blue states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania last November.
Meanwhile, Axios reported Monday that Senate Republicans have decided they “don’t need” Trump, and so are going to push on with their own agenda — including pushing for a tougher line on Russia sanctions, continuing with the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the election, and their own version of tax reform “unconstrained by White House policy priorities or timetable.”
It seems lobbyists on the Hill may be pressuring lawmakers to leave Trump isolated, with one GOP lobbyist summarizing lobbyist concerns to Axios: “Business feels the agenda is going down the toilet…This said, his supporters are hanging in there.”
However, while the Comey controversy is being cited as the final straw, latest polling suggests the public aren’t particularly bothered by the media-driven “scandal.”
The annoyance with Trump is bubbling up in media interviews too, with longtime Trump opponents feeling emboldened by recent opposition to Trump. On Thursday, Maine Sen. Susan Collins expressed concern that “we have an upheaval, a crisis almost every day in Washington that changes the subject,” according to the Times.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) griped on Sunday about Trump’s tweeting in the wake of Comey’s firing. Calling the tweeting “inappropriate,” Graham told NBC’s Chuck Todd: “I would advise the president not to tweet or comment about the investigation as we go forward.”
“The Russians did interfere in our election. I don’t think they changed the outcome. I have no evidence of collusion. But the president needs to back off here and let the investigation go forward,” Graham said.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) — a longtime Trump critic — also jumped on Comey’s firing, saying on Twitter last Tuesday: “I’ve spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey’s firing. I just can’t do it.”
Over the weekend he told the New York Times that he would be independent and remain opposed to Trump on NAFTA and the border wall.
“I expect people want someone who will say, ‘I’m voting with Trump on the good stuff and standing up to him on the not good stuff,’” he said.
However, Trump has still managed to command the support of Republican Senators when it matters, despite their undermining of him in liberal media outlets. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver pointed to the voting records of Republicans in the Senate — noting that most have a 95-100 percent record of voting in line with the president.