As House Republicans vented about the Senate’s failure to repeal Obamacare at a private meeting Friday morning, one member suddenly stood up to pin the blame on someone else entirely: President Donald Trump.
Rep. Dave Trott shocked the room when he said the president had been unhelpful on health care, according to sources at the meeting. The second-term Republican from Michigan worried aloud that constant White House infighting was distracting from the Republican agenda — and he said he felt the president could have done more to get the bill across the finish line.
Trott was simply vocalizing what’s on many members’ minds already, even if few say so publicly for fear of retribution. Hill Republicans are increasingly worried that Trump’s penchant for drama — and the constant bickering in the West Wing — is going to crush their agenda.
This week, for instance, Republicans would have preferred to see the president spend more time shepherding the Senate’s floundering repeal effort rather than knocking Attorney General Jeff Sessions, several told POLITICO. As for Trump’s new communication director, Anthony Scaramucci, Hill Republicans were dumbfounded by his comments earlier this week attacking now-former chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategy Stephen Bannon.
The drama continued into Friday, when Priebus resigned days after Scaramucci called him, in an interview with the New Yorker, a “f—— paranoid schizophrenic” and accused him of trying to “c— block” him in the West Wing. All that came after press secretary Sean Spicer’s departure, which was also triggered by Scaramucci’s arrival and the ongoing war within the White House.
“There’s a level of conversation coming out of the White House of the likes of which nobody has ever seen before,” said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), who seconded Trott’s comments during the closed-door GOP conference meeting. “And so, as a consequence, not only do you have the normal impediments to legislative change, but you’ve got additional impediments that are self-created within the White House that impedes the president’s ability to lead.”
Of course, Sanford has never been a Trump fan. The president, through budget director Mick Mulvaney, threatened to recruit a primary challenger against him if he voted against the House’s health care bill this spring. Sanford ultimately backed the bill.
But nowadays, Sanford is far from the only Republican criticizing the White House’s dysfunction. Two weeks ago, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) fumed that the White House’s ongoing drip-drip in the Russia scandal was distracting from Republicans’ message.
Speaking to a gaggle of reporters off the House floor Friday before Priebus’ departure was announced, Sanford said he agreed with Trott’s comments, though he did not mention Trott by name.
“That which is weird is getting weirder at the White House,” Sanford continued. “The new [communications director] has said things that are bizarre by any standards. And, consequently, they get covered… things that have nothing to do with improving people’s lives.”
A Trott spokesperson said the congressman is exasperated by the gridlock in Washington.
“It feels like every time the House passes substantive legislation to better the lives of the American people it fails to come to fruition,” the spokesperson said. “There’s plenty of blame to go around, but Rep. Trott is focused on finding consensus and uniting the party so he can deliver real solutions for his constituents.”
Some Republicans are frustrated with Trump, not just his staff.
They felt he should have spent more time talking about health care than tweeting about Hillary Clinton’s email practices. They also believe his comments about the Russia controversy only make the matter more prominent in the headlines.
Rep. Charlie Dent, a moderate Republican who voted against the House repeal bill, said the health care effort was doomed from the start — in part because of Trump. The president, he argued, "never really laid out core principals and didn’t sell them to the American people.”
“Usually the executive has to provide a plan and go out and sell it,” he said. “It was never really sold.”