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Trump-Republican Split Widens Ahead of Key Legislative Session


FILE - Then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump listens as Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee speaks at a campaign rally in Raleigh, N.C., July 5, 2016. Corker has drawn Trump's ire for questioning whether the president has the "stability" and "competence" needed to succeed in office.

If President Donald Trump wants to pass key items on his legislative agenda, he will need the support of his fellow Republicans.

But as Congress prepares to return to Washington next month for a crucial fall legislative session, Trump has shown no signs of letting up his attacks on Republican lawmakers.

The latest Republican to draw Trump's ire was Senator Bob Corker, who last week questioned whether Trump possessed the "stability" and "competence" to succeed as president.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday declined to comment on Corker's remark, saying it was "outrageous" and "doesn't dignify a response."

Trump, however, was more than willing to hit back at the Tennessee senator, who had been one of his early supporters.

"Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in '18. Tennessee not happy!" Trump said in a Friday tweet.

It was the latest evidence of a widening split between Trump and Republican lawmakers, which only worsened following what many viewed as his insufficient condemnation of the deadly violence by white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month.

The rift could have a major impact on the president's legislative agenda. Though Republicans control both houses of Congress, they have struggled to find common ground. Most notably, Republicans failed to repeal and replace the signature health care law of former President Barack Obama.

On Thursday, Trump slammed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin for creating what he called a "mess" of the legislative process meant to raise the country's borrowing limit. In a series of tweets, he scolded McConnell and Ryan for not attaching debt ceiling legislation to a recently signed bill that aims to assist veterans.

Trump's relationship with McConnell, in particular, has deteriorated. According to recent media reports, Trump and McConnell have not spoken since earlier this month, when they engaged in a shouting match during a phone call.

The offices of both men have since put out statements downplaying the tensions.

FILE- Arizona Senators John McCain, left, and Jeff Flake talk to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 4, 2015.
FILE- Arizona Senators John McCain, left, and Jeff Flake talk to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 4, 2015.

Trump this week also went after two other prominent Republican senators, Jeff Flake and John McCain. At a rally in Arizona, the state both men represent, Trump slammed McCain, who was recently diagnosed with brain cancer, for casting the deciding vote against the health care bill. He also accused Flake, a frequent critic of the president, of being "weak on borders, weak on crime."

Immediate and longer-term priorities

The infighting comes at a particularly sensitive time for Trump and the Republicans, who must work together to pass urgent legislation next month to keep the federal government open and raise the country's borrowing limit.

Trump will also need all the Republican support he can get to pass his longer-term priorities, such as funding for his proposed southern border wall, an overhaul of the U.S. tax system and a massive infrastructure program.

FILE - A Donald Trump supporter holds up his shirt, which bears the slogan "Build a Wall," at a campaign rally for Trump, Aug. 30, 2016, in Everett, Wash.
FILE - A Donald Trump supporter holds up his shirt, which bears the slogan "Build a Wall," at a campaign rally for Trump, Aug. 30, 2016, in Everett, Wash.

But the divide isn't likely to heal anytime soon, Republican political analyst Evan Siegfried warned.

"This is an emotional backlash, stemming from the fact that the president is isolated, impotent, and has an overblown sense of grievance," Siegfried said.

Trump's constant fights with Republicans have led some analysts to suggest that he be viewed primarily as an independent actor, altogether separate from the party. In Siegfried's mind, that's already the case.

"And the longer we don't have any real legislative results in the party and in Congress, the more of the tension and divide there will be," he predicted.

Asked Friday what the president intended to accomplish by attacking members of his own party, press secretary Huckabee Sanders responded: "I think it's clear that the end game is for Congress to do its jobs and actually pass legislation."

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