President Trump knows there is a more-than-receptive audience out there for his attacks on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Many Tea Party groups and talk radio conservatives, for example, have long viewed McConnell as a Washington insider prone to establishment deal-making.
But even as he lashed out at the Senate’s top Republican in recent days — blaming McConnell for the failure to pass an Obamacare repeal bill — the President also did him a giant favor by endorsing interim GOP Sen. Luther Strange in an Alabama Senate primary.
Strange has McConnell’s blessing, as well as the backing of GOP establishment groups including the Chamber of Commerce. There are two more conservative, anti-establishment candidates in the GOP race, and the backlash against the President was quick.
“A stab the back to every conservative in this country,” is how the radio host Mark Levin termed the President’s endorsement of Strange. “He can’t say he’s an outsider when he just undermined every conservative in the state of Alabama and every conservative in this country by endorsing the worst candidate possible.”
Levin didn’t stop there: “Now I don’t know how we’re going to get change in this country, when Mr. Change is not for Mr. Change. These elections have consequences. I think what he did yesterday was outrageous, absolutely outrageous. And I don’t think many of you are going to forget about it.”
In addition to the anger at Trump, anti-establishment conservatives read the Strange endorsement as proof that populist chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon — an avid McConnell and establishment critic — does not have the juice they had hoped when it comes to big decisions about 2018 midterm strategy.
2) Off to Latin America — so what is that military option in Venezuela?
Vice President Mike Pence is getting ready for a trip to Latin America, and is likely to face a common question at several stops — just what did President Trump mean last week when he said he was considering US “military options” to deal with the political unrest in Venezuela?
It is familiar territory for the President’s loyal No. 2. Pence’s trips to Europe have been dominated by questions from allies about the President’s commitment to NATO and other transatlantic issues.
Margaret Talev of Bloomberg Politics laid out some of the itinerary — and the issues facing Pence.
“Argentina, Colombia, Panama — they all make a ring around Venezuela,” Talev said. “Of course, with the tensions and real concerns given Maduro’s behavior, President Trump’s threat of military action in Venezuela as an option, the vice president’s conversations, particularly in Colombia, are going to be really important to watch.”
3) Pick an issue, and leading voices in Congress have a common question: What IS the White House position?
A potential military option in Venezuela? A possible trade war with China as a way of getting Beijing’s help with North Korea?
Ask a key member of Congress about the White House strategy on those and other issues raised by the President of late and you are likely to get a shrug, or something to the effect of “check back down the road a bit.”
Because, like the rest of us, Congress is learning about shifts and potential shifts in policy by reading the President’s Twitter feed, or watching his interactions with reporters at his New Jersey golf club.
Karoun Demirjian of The Washington Post reports there is a growing sense of exasperation about the lack of dialogue with members of Congress.
“A lot of Republicans want to know, what do you mean, Mr. President? We need details, we need explanations. They have spent a lot of time, many months, excusing many things on just fast Twitter fingers and, you know, that’s just what he’s saying off the cuff, but there’s frustration building, especially as they have to decide this recess,” Demirjian reports. “Do they stick by the President or do they start to criticize him? And if they choose to start to criticize him, that has implications for tax reform, and really the Russia probe.”
4) Trump’s first General Assembly as President — a giant world event
The annual United Nations General Assembly is a month away, and recent events only add to mounting anticipation that it will be a tense gathering.
For starters, it is a first for President Trump — and it comes at a time of rising tensions with Russia, China and North Korea, as well as a new dustup with Venezuela.
And just as it a giant platform for the President to make his case, it is also a forum for his many critics — something Michael Shear of The New York Times said is part of the growing anticipation.
“It was already going to be an interesting moment with everything involving Russia. When you add the North Korea and the Venezuela moment over the last few days, it is shaping up to be a really blockbuster,” Shear comments. “We are not only watching what President Trump says in his address to the General Assembly, but even more interesting may be what some of these other world leaders say with him in the audience.”
5) Note to Jared Kushner — a rather persistent GOP senator wants more
Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley is known to get a little ornery if he thinks his requests for information from government agencies are being ignored or slow-walked.
And now the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner apparently is among those who risk getting on Grassley’s bad side.
Grassley is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee — and in his oversight work can be a stickler for detail. CNN’s Manu Raju reports that the senator and his staff are are not happy — so far — with the responses from Kushner and his representatives to questions about how he filled out — and later amended — the forms required to get his security clearance.
“One key question … is whether or not he can be trusted with sensitive security information. Grassley has told me in the past that he’s willing to subpoena if he does not get information for this,” Raju reports.
“So Jared Kushner came to Capitol Hill in late July and the Senate Intelligence Committee and senators do want to talk to him and the Senate Judiciary Committee wants more answers, as well.”