NEW: The White House press secretary said Trump's Congress relations are 'fine'
Trump and McConnell are currently not speaking following a heated phone call
Both the Legislative and Executive Branch have ambitious goals for this fall
Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell aren’t exactly kissing and making up.
The unflattering details of a rapidly deteriorating relationship between the President and the Senate majority leader spilled out into the open this month – an angry phone call that devolved into a screaming match; a refusal to speak to one another since that heated conversation; and a steady exchange of hardly subtle snubs.
But the constant drip of reporting about the stunningly strained ties between Trump and McConnell appear to have done little so far to compel the two powerful Republicans to swallow their pride and hug it out – in fact, the tension appears to be mounting.
Trump put out a series of tweets Thursday morning – some explicitly critical of McConnell.
“The only problem I have with Mitch McConnell is that, after hearing Repeal & Replace for 7 years, he failed!” Trump wrote – a reference to a Senate’s failure to pass an Obamacare repeal legislation last month. “That should NEVER have happened!”
Earlier in the morning, the President had also criticized McConnell’s handling of raising the debt ceiling.
The Twitter rebuke made for a particularly awkward scene, as McConnell was being watched closely as he spoke at a breakfast event at his home state of Kentucky. The veteran senator praised Trump in his remarks for rolling back Obama-era regulations and picking Neil Gorsuch as the most recent Supreme Court justice, while hinting that he was “a little concerned” about the Trump administration’s rhetoric about trade.
The escalation of the drama Thursday came the day after both the White House and McConnell’s office were forced to release respective statements emphasizing their commitment to shared legislative goals as media reports swirled of an increasingly toxic Trump-McConnell relationship.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday afternoon the Trump’s relationship to GOP leaders is “fine.”
“I think the relationships are fine. Certainly I think there are going to be some policy differences, but there are also a lot of shared goals,” Huckabee Sanders said at the White House briefing.
Meanwhile, the duo has no plans to meet until at least the first week of September when Congress returns from summer recess, a senior White House official told CNN. Perhaps in a nod at the now infamous profanity-laced phone call that Trump and McConnell had earlier this month about efforts to repeal Obamacare, that official noted: “There were conversations about having calls on several items, but I think we felt it would be better to do it in person.”
All of this has Republicans in Washington worried about the party’s agenda for the rest of the year – and reeling from the dramatic worsening of the two men’s relationship.
For the better part of this year, Trump and McConnell appeared to maintain a relatively cordial working alliance. Buoyed by the Republican Party’s control of the House, the Senate and the White House, Trump kicked off his first term with a healthy dose of optimism that the GOP could quickly tackle its most urgent legislative priorities and score major political wins.
But the item at the top of that list – repealing Obamacare – proved much harder than Republican leaders, especially the President himself, could have expected. The painful months-long efforts to deliver on the party’s promise to gut the Affordable Care Act ultimately ended in spectacular defeat, when three Republican senators defied McConnell and Trump last month by voting “no.”
The failure did not sit well with Trump, who quickly took to Twitter to train his fire on McConnell. “Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn’t get it done,” Trump said in one of several tweets aimed at the Senate majority leader. “Mitch, get back to work,” began another.
McConnell hasn’t been quiet, either.
In eyebrow-raising remarks, the Kentucky Republican said at an event in his home state earlier this month that Trump had “excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process.”
The tension has only been exacerbated by Trump’s attacks against individual Republican senators. At a campaign rally in Phoenix Tuesday night, the President went after the state’s two GOP senators, Jeff Flake and John McCain. (Trump is unhappy with McCain for helping to sink the GOP’s Senate health care bill and has butted heads with Flake, who has openly criticized the President as he prepares for a tough re-election next year).
The brewing Trump-McConnell feud has plenty of congressional Republicans and their aides siding with the Senate majority leader.
One GOP senator on Wednesday simply called on the President to back off. Trump’s attacks against members of his own party, widely panned comments about the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, Twitter tirades and threats to shut down the government are all causing major “distractions” for the party as it hopes to move forward with an ambitious fall agenda that includes big-ticket items like tax reform, said that senator, who declined to speak on the record to candidly discuss Trump.
“I think it has the effect of really bringing the members behind McConnell,” the senator said. “This member-specific focus is not helpful.”
A GOP Senate aide said bluntly that Trump’s slams against Republican members of Congress only make the task of advancing the party’s agenda more difficult.
“Not impossible, but much harder when you have a president who is working against us rather than with us,” the aide said. “It’s a shame. Every Republican wants this President to succeed, and are desperately trying to assist him, but he can’t help but indulge his own self-destructive habits.”
At a news conference Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked about Trump’s criticism of the two GOP senators from Arizona and whether that was wise, since he would need their votes to pass tax reform and other legislation.
“I think the President feels that that’s a strategy that works for him. I would just say that I think it’s important that we all stay unified as Republicans to complete our agenda,” Ryan said. “Those two gentlemen are people I respect, know, like and are friends with and we disagree on certain issues.”
This story has been updated to reflect breaking news.
CNN’s Elizabeth Landers, Manu Raju, Ted Barrett and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.