Politics

Mitch McConnell Stays on Message at Ham Breakfast

At Kentucky event, majority leader declines to address rift with Trump

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, seen here earlier this month at the annual Fancy Farm picnic, largely avoided criticizing the president on Thursday at the Kentucky Country Ham Breakfast and Auction in Louisville, Ky. (Kat Russell/The Paducah Sun via AP)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Comfortable on his home turf here at the Kentucky Country Ham Breakfast and Auction, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not address the growing rift between congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump, opting instead to spend a notable portion of his address Thursday criticizing the former administration.

“The single figure that stands about above all else is we didn’t have a single year of three percent growth,” McConnell said of the last eight years at the annual event hosted by the Kentucky Farm Bureau. “This new administration in Washington and this Congress is interested in getting America growing again.”

He touted the 14 regulations repealed this year using the Congressional Review Act and also knocked the Waters of the United States rule, which he said “is on the way to the ash heap if history.”

The majority leader did address some divergent points between his beliefs and the president’s. Despite comments from Trump as recently as Tuesday that he believed the North America Free Trade Agreement would be terminated, McConnell voiced support for free trade agreements and said there was more work to be done to sell the benefits of those deals.

“I’m a little bit concerned about some of the trade rhetoric,” he said. “The assumption that every free trade agreement is a loser for America is largely untrue, so we have a selling job to do.”

But largely McConnell emphasized what a unified GOP government could do. He touched upon the vacancies in the court system by saying the “greatest opportunity every president has to affect the future is giving people lifetime seats on the federal court.”

In a familiar talking point, he blasted Democrats for not helping the GOP in its attempt to overhaul the U.S. tax code, even though there have been no hearings or formal structure to beginning that effort.

Rift Between Congress and White House

While he did not discuss it on Thursday, the animosity between the controlled McConnell and boisterous Trump appears to be growing.

In a tweet on Thursday, the president criticized the decision by both McConnell and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan to not attach a debt limit measure to a recently passed veterans’ bill.

This comes after Trump has directed several sharply worded attacks at the majority leader.

McConnell, in a statement released on Wednesday, tried to tamp down reports that the relationship between Trump and the Kentucky Republican has soured.

“The President and I, and our teams, have been and continue to be in regular contact about our shared goals,” he said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us, and we are committed to advancing our shared agenda together and anyone who suggests otherwise is clearly not part of the conversation.”

The White House, when asked about the reports on Wednesday, cited a number of upcoming meetings between McConnell and the administration, as well as their “shared priorities, including middle class tax relief, strengthening the military, constructing a southern border wall, and other important issues.”

“They will hold previously scheduled meetings following the August recess to discuss these critical items with members of the congressional leadership and the president’s Cabinet,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

Tensions between Trump and Senate Republicans have been high. Several GOP members condemned the president last week for his response to the deadly events in Charlottesville, Va.

In a rally in Phoenix Tuesday, Trump pushed back against that criticism but omitted his initial failure to denounce the neo-Nazis who precipitated the violence. 

During that same rally, he also criticized Arizona's Republican senators, Jeff Flake and John McCain.

This is not the first time Flake, who has been critical of the president, has been on the receiving end of Trump’s attacks. Earlier this month, the president in a tweet called Flake “toxic” and praised his primary opponent, Kelli Ward.

Republican senators rose to McConnell’s defense after Trump, in a series of tweets and public comments, suggested the Kentucky Republican’s job could be on the line if the GOP agenda is not advanced.

“Passing POTUS’s legislative agenda requires a team effort. No one is more qualified than Mitch McConnell to lead Senate in that effort,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas wrote in a tweet.

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