The relationship between President Donald Trump and members of his party in Congress had a rough week.
Trump’s Capitol Hill colleagues were frustrated with him on several fronts after a remarkable roundtable on gun control at the White House on Wednesday, criticism of attorney general Jeff Sessions and an unexpected announcement on tariffs.
It’s not unique for Trump to break with his party – as he has done throughout his unorthodox presidency. But this week, congressional Republicans pushed back strongly against the White House and their President’s own remarks more strongly than they have at other points over the last year. GOP members of Congress, who see the President an a key ally for implementing their agenda, appeared at times pushed to the limit of the slack they were willing to grant the commander in chief.
Some Republicans were more outspoken than others. While the party’s leadership on Capitol Hill remained fairly measured, some bolder lawmakers shared their sharp disapproval publicly.
Trump on guns
When Trump held a bipartisan meeting at the White House earlier this week on how to address gun violence, he broke from his own party on an issue as close to the Republican brand.
On camera, Trump pushed to raise the age at which an individual can purchase a rifle from 18 to 21 even after a weekend lunch with officials from the National Rifle Association, who have publicly opposed the change. He also called to expand background checks and told the House’s Majority Whip Steve Scalise that a concealed carry bill would never pass attached to legislation to incentivize states to enter data into the national background checks database.
And Trump received the most shocked reactions when he said it might be better in some cases to allow law enforcement to confiscate weapons from potentially disturbed individuals before allowing those individuals due process through the courts.
“Take the gun first, go through due process second,” Trump said.
Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican who was not at the bipartisan meeting, was quick to blast Trump’s statement.
“We’re not ditching any constitutional protections simply because the last person the President talked to today doesn’t like them,” he said in a statement Wednesday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, warned that Trump would need to follow through this time or risk hurting his reputation.
“If we don’t do it this time, then this will get old.” Graham said. “If the President has another one of these sessions and he doesn’t follow through – it’s going to hurt him. It’s going to hurt the Republican Party.”
Trump appeared to realize the damage he’d done on Wednesday, calling Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn Thursday night to reiterate his support for his bill to require federal and state agencies to keep the National Instant Criminal Background Check System updated, a bill he introduced with Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy called “Fix NICS.” He also met with NRA officials Thursday.
Trump on Sessions
Graham didn’t just push back on Trump’s remarks on guns, but also his tweet where he chastised Sessions, a former US senator from Alabama, for asking the Justice Department inspector general to look into whether the FBI abused its surveillance authority in seeking a warrant to monitor Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
“Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!” Trump wrote Wednesday.
After the tweet, Graham told CNN he wanted Trump to back off Sessions.
“I think (Sessions) removed himself appropriately from all things Russia and 2016, so when the President beats on Jeff Sessions, I think it’s inappropriate ‘cause he doesn’t have the ability to make these decisions,” Graham told CNN in an interview Thursday on Capitol Hill.
Graham said Thursday that he hopes Sessions “would continue in the job because I’d hate to find a replacement for him.”
He added, “But, if you want to blow up the Senate, try to find an attorney general to replace Jeff Sessions under these circumstances.”
Trump on tariffs
After Trump said Thursday his administration will impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports next week, GOP senators spoke out about their fear of retaliation from other countries and the lack of communication from the White House.
Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, expressed concern Thursday and asked that Trump reconsider to avoid “unintended consequences” and retaliation that could ultimately hurt American companies and workers.
Sasse, who had several statements against Trump this week, slammed the tariffs decision as something Americans would expect from a “leftist administration,” not a Republican commander in chief.
“Let’s be clear: The President is proposing a massive tax increase on American families. Protectionism is weak, not strong,” he said in a statement. “You’d expect a policy this bad from a leftist administration, not a supposedly Republican one.”
Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican who is the chair of the Senate agriculture committee, also blasted the decision for the tariffs and warned of retaliation.
“They’ve already done this on washing machines and solar panels and the sorghum producer, one of the rare crops where we were making a profit, got targeted by China,” he said. “Every time you do this, you get a retaliation. And agriculture is the number one target. I think this is terribly counterproductive for the (agriculture) economy and I’m not very happy.”
When asked why Trump made the decision, Roberts responded: “Good question.”
Trump continued to argue on Friday that trade wars can be good.
“When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Sasse responded, saying “trade wars are lost by both sides.”
“Trade wars are never won. Trade wars are lost by both sides,” he said in a statement Friday. “Make no mistake: If the President goes through with this, it will kill American jobs – that’s what every trade war ultimately does. So much losing.”
CNN’s Ted Barrett and Lauren Fox contributed to this report.