Trump Expresses Confidence in McConnell — But With Caveats

President notes Moore campaign attacked majority leader in Alabama Senate primary runoff

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell listens as President Donald Trump speaks at the GOP Congressional retreat in Philadelphia in January. Twice on Wednesday, Trump expressed confidence in McConnell — though he hedged a bit. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Pool file photo)

President Donald Trump is expressing confidence in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell while also warning him and other Republican leaders that he intends to strike a health care deal with their Democratic foes.

Asked if he has confidence in the embattled Kentucky Republican during a cable news interview that aired Thursday morning, Trump replied pithily: “I do,” adding he has “dealt with Mitch for a long time.”

That comment came hours after the president delivered a more tepid endorsement of McConnell when asked by reporters on the South Lawn at the White House, as he departed Wednesday for a tax speech in Indianapolis, if the majority leader is “in trouble” after failing twice to pass a health overhaul bill to undo Barack Obama’s 2010 law.

“You’ll have to ask senators about that,” Trump said. “So you’re going to have to ask senators.”

Asked a second time about McConnell as he was leaving the executive mansion, Trump was more bullish — but notably, he offered two telling caveats that suggest he harbors some doubts about the Senate GOP leader’s ability to deliver the “make America great again” agenda that Trump campaigned on.

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“I do have confidence in him, yes. I do have confidence in him,” the president said. “But it’s not up to me, it’s up to the Senate. But I do have confidence.”

Trump indirectly brought up former Judge Roy Moore’s Alabama GOP Senate primary win over appointed incumbent Luther Strange, who had the strong backing of McConnell and the so-called Republican “establishment.”

“And I will say they used him in the race,” Trump said of the Moore campaign’s attacks on the majority leader. “But they used him in the race. … They used him in the race.”

In the television interview, Trump again urged McConnell to change the Senate’s rules to pass legislation with 51 votes. But McConnell wants to keep the existing 60-vote threshold — and the overwhelming composition of his conference agrees.

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What’s more, Trump appeared to send a signal to Senate Republicans to find a way to get to 50 votes on the Graham-Cassidy health care overhaul bill that was shelved this week a handful of GOP votes shy of that mark. (Vice President Mike Pence would be able to cast the decisive 51st vote, if needed.)

Reconciliation rules allowing a 51-vote threshold expire Friday; Republicans intend to write new rules and bring the legislation back early next year. Trump made it clear he is going in search of another deal until new reconciliation rules ripen.

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“In the meantime, I’m going to start negotiating with Democrats and we’ll see what happens,” Trump told Fox News, adding he has a “nice relationship” with House Minority and Senate Minority Leaders Nancy Pelosi of California and Charles E. Schumer of New York.

“If we can come up with a fantastic health care bill, that’s okay with me,” the president said. “Good for both parties, bipartisan.”

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