President Trump met with Republican senators Tuesday to discuss tax reform, North Korea and other topics.
The meeting was a “lovefest,” except for Sens. Bob Corker (R.-Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (R.- Ariz.), with “several standing ovations,” the president said.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Washington, a political action committee affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “declared open warfare” against Steve Bannon, the former presidential adviser who is now recruiting candidates to run against GOP establishment senators.
“The effort reflects the growing concern of Republican lawmakers over the rise of anti-establishment forces and comes amid escalating frustration over President Trump’s conduct, which has prompted a handful of lawmakers to publicly criticize the president.”
The Senate Leadership Fund will take care not to attack Trump but focus on Bannon and the candidates he recruited and convinced to pledge they will depose McConnell as Majority Leader if elected.
The plan is to “highlight Bannon’s hardline populism and attempt to link him to white nationalism to discredit him and the candidates he will support.”
The Senate Leadership Fund will go after Kelli Ward, an Arizona state senator who took a wide lead over Flake in the Republican primary, prompting Flake to bow out of the race, according to the Post. The group called her a “conspiracy theorist” in the wake of Flake’s speech to the Senate and said it would work to ensure her defeat.
The fund has already begun attacks on Bannon, tweeting a 2016 headline from the New York Daily News that read: “Anti-Semitic Trump campaign CEO Stephen Bannon not a big fan of ‘whiny brat’ Jews, ex-wife says.”
Bannon denied ever saying that and did send his daughters to the school.
The Senate Leadership Fund’s record is questionable, especially in recent times. Last month, Luther Strange, the candidate backed by McConnell, the SLF, the Republican Party and, nominally, Trump, lost to a Bannon-backed candidate, Roy Moore, a two-time chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.
And the climate didn’t indicate a lot of animus of Trump at the senators’ meeting on Capitol Hill. The meeting “was largely free of turmoil,” the Hill quoted senators as saying.
Sen. John Kennedy, (R.-La.) described the meeting, in which Trump discussed his tax proposals, as “lighthearted” and “cordial.” One GOP source said some of the questions senators asked the president “were so effusive that it sparked the thought, ‘You’re not in his Cabinet; you don’t need to kiss up to him.’”
Trump said nothing to or about Flake or Corker, and neither elected to take him on. Trump took questions – even some tough ones – and responded affably. He told senators from rural states he would protect their interests in his renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, asked for some room to negotiate and assured them they would like the result.
“So nice being with Republican Senators today,” Trump tweeted that evening. “Multiple standing ovations! Most are great people who want big Tax Cuts and success for U.S.”
The walls are caving in on Trump with regard to the Senate. His efforts, and those of Bannon, to upset the establishment with primary challengers committed to the president’s agenda is not politics as usual, rather, it “is causing unnecessary internal divisions that could make it harder to pass tax legislation.”
According to The Hill, he sat down to meatloaf and cherry pie with some of his best friends in the Capitol.
It’s possible the media misunderstands this because it is changing so rapidly. Perhaps, though, the media fully understands what is happening – that a president is coalescing his growing power by attempting to elect allies to Congress – but can’t do because that would mean normalizing Donald Trump and admitting he has the people behind him.