Republican frustration with President Trump is boiling over in the wake of his incendiary tweets on Thursday attacking MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski.
GOP lawmakers lambasted Trump for his attack, which came days after the White House suffered a political setback with the postponement of a Senate vote on the GOP’s healthcare plan.
Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiThe Memo: New GOP angst over Trump tweets Overnight Energy: Trump vows to bring ‘American energy dominance’ GOP senator to Trump: Do you want to be remembered for your tweets or accomplishments? MORE (R-Alaska) tweeted at the president, “Do you want to be remembered for your tweets or your accomplishments?”
Several other GOP senators including Sens. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsThe Memo: New GOP angst over Trump tweets Schumer to Trump on healthcare: ‘Try me’ OPINION: Trump’s tweets are an indelible stain on the presidency MORE (Maine), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamThe Memo: New GOP angst over Trump tweets Preet Bharara: Problem with Trump isn’t ideology, it’s his ‘lack of decency’ GOP scrambles to win centrist votes on ObamaCare repeal MORE (S.C.), Ben Sasse (Neb.) and even arch-conservative James Lankford (Okla.) expressed dismay at Trump’s tweet.
Uncertainty over where Trump and his administration will now turn their focus, coupled with fears about the president’s unpredictability, amplified the Republican frustration.
Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanThe Memo: New GOP angst over Trump tweets NY Daily News: Trump attack on Brzezinski is ‘humiliation’ for US Dems launch task force to safeguard elections MORE (R-Wis.) at a press conference sought to call attention to votes cracking down on crime by illegal immigrants, a central issue of Trump’s campaign. He instead fielded questions about Trump’s tweets and healthcare.
There were signs Thursday of what Trump and his team wanted to emphasize — and of what a more traditional White House messaging operation might look like.
The administration wanted this to be energy week, and Trump announced actions at a separate event on efforts to boost fossil fuels.
At a White House press briefing, Gary Cohn, the president’s chief economic advisor, emphasized that trade and steel issues would come up on Trump’s second foreign trip next week, during which he will attend a meeting of the G20 in Hamburg.
But talk on any of these subjects was essentially vaporized by Trump’s comments about Brzezinski, which dominated the news cycle.
The president complained on Twitter that Brzezinski and her on-and-off-screen partner Joe Scarborough had “insisted on joining” him at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida around New Year’s Eve.
“She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!” Trump tweeted.
One by one, GOP lawmakers blasted Trump over the remarks.
Collins, one of the Republicans opposed, at present, to the Senate healthcare plan, told Chuck Todd on MSNBC’s “MTP Daily” that Trump should end his Twitter use.
Among the broader community of Republicans, the criticism was even harsher.
“I am newly aghast that Donald TrumpDonald TrumpThe Memo: New GOP angst over Trump tweets State officials refuse to turn over voter roll data to Trump election panel Overnight Cybersecurity: Defense bills beef up cyber oversight | Senate passes updated Russia sanctions bill | Trump, Putin to meet at G-20 MORE is president of the United States of America,” said Florida-based GOP consultant John ‘Mac’ Stipanovich, who asserted that Trump “is an embarrassment to everyone who has the slightest regard for the dignity of the office.”
Stipanovich, a frequent Trump critic with long connections to the Bush family, also lamented the likelihood that the president’s words would be counter-productive to hopes of pushing a GOP legislative agenda.
“I conclude from this behavior that he doesn’t give a damn about accomplishing his agenda because he does nothing but make it harder for people who want to help him do that,” he said.
Publicly, the White House defended Trump. Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders insisted that he showed the dignity of the office “every day,” and that his comments about Brzezinski amounted to self-defense against a show where he receives frequent and trenchant criticism.
“I don’t think that it’s a surprise to anybody that he fights fire with fire,” Sanders said. “The things that this show has called him — and not just him but numerous members of his staff, including myself and many others — are very deeply personal.”
Other allies of the president joined the uphill battle to keep some focus on policies.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced punitive measures against a Chinese bank that he said was suspected of money laundering pertaining to North Korea. More broadly, Mnuchin reiterated that the administration was “100 percent committed” to enacting tax reform this year.
A short time before, Cohn and national security advisor H.R. McMaster previewed the president’s foreign trip. The G20 summit will see a meeting between Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin, which is sure to generate intense interest given the probes into allegations of cooperation between Moscow and Trump’s 2016 campaign.
McMaster argued that it was a priority for the administration to “confront Russia’s destabilizing behavior” on the world stage.
Others in Trump’s orbit are still holding out hope of some kind of healthcare deal, even if it proves less expansive than the full repeal the president promised on the campaign trail.
Chris Ruddy, the CEO of Newsmax Media and a Trump friend, emphasized that it was up to the president where to put his focus, but said, “I think he should not give up on healthcare.”
Ruddy asserted that Trump had been badly served by Ryan, who took the lead on the issue, and added that the president was a more inherently flexible figure than his GOP counterparts on Capitol Hill.
“That is the authentic Donald Trump,” he added. “These other guys are very ideologically rigid.”
The president himself turned his Twitter back to relatively uncontroversial use late afternoon Thursday, commending the House for passing “Kate’s Law,” which gets its informal name from the late Kathryn Steinle, who was killed in San Francisco in 2015 by an illegal immigrant who had previously been deported five times.
The law stiffens penalties for criminals who have been deported and illegally re-enter the United States.
“Good news, House just passed #KatesLaw. Hopefully Senate will follow,” Trump tweeted.
The news, positive though it was for the administration, seemed likely to provide only a brief relief from the Brzezinski affair — yet another storm of the president’s own making.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.