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Trump shows unity with McConnell, rips Democrats’ ‘obstruction’

Updated October 16, 2017 - 7:37 pm

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump found a new political group to bake under his harsh spotlight on Monday — Democrats.

Their real political talent is “obstruction,” Trump charged at an impromptu conference in the Rose Garden flanked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a frequent Trump pincushion over the summer.

After the Senate failed to pass an Obamacare makeover bill in July, Trump began berating McConnell on Twitter and told reporters he was “very disappointed in Mitch.” But Monday afternoon, at what served as his second extended press conference at the White House, Trump told reporters that he and McConnell had been friends for many years, and now they are “closer than ever before.”

The pop-up presser followed Trump’s lunch with McConnell and Vice President Mike Pence. The lunch came two days after former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon declared a “season of war” on the Republican establishment — and suggested a GOP Brutus should take on the Senate majority leader.

At the Values Voter Summit, Bannon also repeated his intent to find primary challengers for most GOP incumbent senators running for re-election in 2018, even if they voted for Trump legislation. Bannon warned incumbents, including Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., that if they want to avoid a challenge, “You can come to a stick, a microphone, and say, ‘I’m not going to vote for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.’”

When McConnell was asked about Bannon’s comments, he replied that the goal is to for Republicans to win in November 2018. “You have to nominate people who can actually win, because winners make policy,” McConnell said. “Losers go home.”

Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Maria Cardona called the Rose Garden event a “peace offering” from a president who “is beginning to understand he can’t succeed without Mitch McConnell.”

Both Trump and McConnell said they wanted to pass a tax-cut bill this calendar year, but they admitted that an effort to rewrite tax policy may take them into 2018.

Trump takes to Twitter

Monday morning dawned with Trump turning his ire on the opposite party. “The Democrats only want to increase taxes and obstruct. That’s all they are good at!” Trump tweeted.

While Trump frequently tweets about Democratic obstructionism, in recent months he has saved his hottest fire for fellow Republicans — not only McConnell, but also Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

At Monday’s Cabinet meeting, a reporter asked Trump about Bannon’s war on GOP leaders. The president joined his fired strategist in finding fault with top Republicans for failing to pass his agenda, even though they hold majorities in both houses.

“And I’m not going to blame myself, I’ll be honest,” Trump said. “They are not getting the job done.”

In September, Trump cut a deal with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to extend government funding for three months — as he let it be known the deal was in part a rebuke of Republicans for their failure to deliver a health care bill.

Since then Schumer and Pelosi have been in a difficult position of trying to negotiate with the White House without alienating a voter base that expects them to lead the resistance against Trump.

Schumer issued a series of tweets Monday in which he did both. “For months, @SenateDems have pushed to stabilize markets & worked twd (toward) a bipart (bipartisan) agreement to keep premiums down for millions of Americans,” read one tweet. In another, Schumer noted Trump “complains about fake news — this tax plan’s fake math is as bad as any of the so-called fake news he has complained about.”

An appeal to Hillary Clinton

The Rose Garden event lasted close to 45 minutes as Trump gamely called on reporters standing in the Rose Garden and shouting to be called on.

Asked about the 2020 presidential election, Trump mugged, “Hillary, please run again.”

Afterwards, former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich tweeted that Trump “was remarkably strong in his joint press event with Sen. McConnell. His grasp of the issues is very deep and growing.”

When asked why Trump has not spoken publicly about the four U.S. troops — Army Sgts. La David Johnson, Bryan Black, Dustin Wright and Jeremiah Johnson — who died in an ambush in Niger, the president responded that he had written personal letters to the families. He said he expects to phone the families as well.

Trump added, “if you look at President (Barack) Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls. A lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it. They have made the ultimate sacrifice.”

“The commander-in-chief told a totally irresponsible and disgusting lie in the Rose Garden today, claiming past presidents did not call the families of fallen service members,” Brian Gabriel, deputy press secretary of the Democratic National Committee, said in a statement. “Trump’s jaw-dropping, disrespectful lie is not based anywhere in reality and is another symptom of a deep-seated obsession with tearing down President Obama.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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