Trump tests GOP loyalty with election tweet and stimulus strategy
President Trump is testing the loyalty of his Republican allies on Capitol Hill at a time when his weak job approval numbers have GOP lawmakers increasingly concerned that he may lose re-election and drag down their Senate majority with him.
Senate Republicans have largely stuck by Trump during his tumultuous time in office.
While they criticize the president from time to time, they mostly avoid publicly confrontations, even though a good number of GOP lawmakers are willing to express their critical judgments privately.
On Thursday, however, they decisively broke with Trump over postponing the Nov. 3 election, which Trump floated as a way to guard against what he says is the danger of vote-by-mail fraud.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) flatly dismissed the idea of delaying the general election when asked about it during an interview with Kentucky television.
“Never in the history of the Congress, through wars, depressions and the Civil War have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time and we’ll find a way to do that again this Nov. 3rd,” McConnell told Max Winitz, the lead evening anchor at WNKY 40.
When Winitz asked whether the Nov. 3rd election date is “set in stone,” McConnell responded “that’s right.”
“We’ll cope with whatever the situation is and have the election on Nov. 3rd as already scheduled,” the GOP leader said.
McConnell made his comments after Trump warned on Twitter that “with universal mail-in voting” the 2020 election “will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history.”
“Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???” the president tweeted.
Trump has maintained strong Republican support on Capitol Hill because of his popularity with the GOP base but that loyalty is being tested as his approval numbers slide amidst a pandemic and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Vin Weber, a Republican strategist, said Trump’s tweet was an unforced error likely prompted by the president’s growing concern about his diminishing chances of winning a second term.
“I think the president is really worried about his re-election. That’s really coming through,” he said. “Whatever spin the Trump people put on poll numbers and claiming it’s fake news and all that stuff, Trump knows he’s in trouble.
“And I also think that it’s that fear that he’s falling behind and may lose that caused him to make that really stupid comment about delaying the election,” he said. “I say stupid because it absolutely does him no good.”
Trump’s approval rating slipped to 40 percent this month, according to a polling average compiled by FiveThirtyEight.com. Public approval of Trump’s response to the pandemic is in the thirties, according to some polls.
The economy, which only six months ago Republicans saw as the president’s strongest argument for re-election, has cratered since March. Gross domestic product dropped by 9.5 percent in the second quarter, making for a 32.9 percent annual rate of decline.
Trump’s weak numbers have begun to weigh on Senate Republican incumbents.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who abruptly stopped speaking to reporters in the hallways of Capitol Hill, was trailing her Democratic opponent Theresa Greenfield by 3 points in a Des Moines Register poll last week.
Senate Republicans felt confident in January that Ernst would cruise to re-election but now her prospects in a state where Trump’s approval rating is underwater look iffy.
With coronavirus infections across the country spiking, the national economy stalling and the polls turning against the president and members of his party, Republican senators on Thursday recoiled against Trump’s suggestion of breaking 175 years of tradition and changing the date of the election.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who golfs with Trump and is one of his closest Senate allies, even panned Trump’s suggestion to delay the election.
“I think delaying the election probably wouldn’t be a good idea,” he said.
McConnell and Graham are both up for re-election this year. While they are running for re-election in staunchly Republican states, they are both facing well-financed opponents in an unpredictable political environment.
Other Republicans across the party’s ideological spectrum weighed against Trump’s proposal.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a prominent conservative, said election fraud is a “serious problem and we should fight and stop it but no we should not delay the elections.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a prominent moderate and outspoken Trump critic, told reporters: “the election will be held on the day set by Congress and the historic date.”
The nation has held its presidential elections on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November since Congress passed the Presidential Election Day Act in 1845.
Trump’s is further testing Republican loyalty by pushing for another massive coronavirus relief package, which Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows are negotiating with Democratic leaders.
While Trump doesn’t seem concerned by the possible impact on the deficit, opposition is steadily growing within the Senate Republican Conference to another multi-trillion-dollar package.
“It needs to be narrower and more directed, more focused,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) of the $1 trillion joint White House-Senate Republican relief proposal unveiled on Monday. “I have yet to get the justification for the long list of things included in the bill and why they’re related to COVID.”
Moran, the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies, said he was given little advanced notice of what spending items under his jurisdiction would be included in the relief bill until it was publicly unveiled.
“If this is the beginning point with my concerns with where this bill is now it only gets, from my perspective, worse with more spending and spending much more broadly outside the specific needs of COVID-19 recovery,” he said.
Republican senators have become more critical of the negotiations between the White House and Democratic leaders in recent days.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) released a statement Tuesday warning that Mnuchin and Meadows are ready to strike a deal with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that would add significantly to the debt.
“We have two big government Democrats — Secretary Mnuchin on behalf of the Trump administration and Speaker Pelosi on behalf of binge-spending politicians everywhere — playing gross games with your kids’ money,” he said.
He accused the White House of “trying to solve bad polling by agreeing to indefensibly bad debt.”
Weber, the Republican strategist, said Trump is not on the same page as many GOP lawmakers with regards to the size of the next relief package.
He said Trump “wants the biggest stimulus he can get and he doesn't care what it looks like.”
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