U.S. President Donald Trump intensified his feud Thursday with Mitch McConnell, the Republican Party leader in the Senate, who has a key role in advancing the president's agenda.
Trump even suggested McConnell should step aside if he could not get a majority of votes in the Senate — which the party controls — to pass legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, and other legislation on issues embraced by the president.
Reporters asked Trump whether McConnell should remain as Senate majority leader if he was unable to win approval of the bills the president wanted. "You can ask the question," Trump said enigmatically, but he declined to answer the question directly.
Trump's remarks late Thursday followed three sharply worded tweets he issued about McConnell during the previous 24 hours. "Get back to work," he said in his most recent post addressed to the senator from Kentucky. "You can do it!"
Earlier Thursday, Trump, who is on a 17-day working vacation at his private New Jersey golf club, assailed McConnell on Twitter for not pushing a health care bill through the Senate.
McConnell and the president spoke by telephone Wednesday, in what the White House described as an animated conversation — which CNN said took place while Trump was playing golf. Soon afterward, Trump began his critical broadside against the Senate majority leader.
Discussing the lack of legislative progress in the Senate with his Kentucky constituents on Monday, McConnell noted, "Our new president [has] of course not been in this line of work before."
About Trump's lack of experience in legislative bargaining, McConnell added, "I think he had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process."
After Senate Republicans tried and failed three times last month to repeal Obamacare — named for former President Barack Obama, during whose first term the law was passed — the majority party's leaders said they would move on and focus on other priority issues, including tax reform and the federal budget.
Trump, however, has not relented on the health care issue, and has begun to personally target McConnell, who has been one of the most staunch supporters of the president's agenda on Capitol Hill.
A potential complicating factor in their spat is the adverse effect it could have on their relationship, given that McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, serves in Trump's Cabinet as transportation secretary.
The attacks also have attracted attention since they have coincided with a sharp slump in public approval of Trump's job performance. Recent public opinion surveys have shown that the proportion of voters who describe themselves as strong supporters of the president has declined.
A Politico-Morning Consult poll conducted in early August found that those labeled as Trump's strong supporters had dipped to a new low of 18 percent, and a Quinnipiac University poll found Trump's strong-approval rating dropped from 28 percent in late June to 23 percent in early August.