U.S. News

Mitch McConnell Sees ‘High Level of Satisfaction’ With Trump Administration

On Washington

WASHINGTON — Although there is plenty of anxiety in Washington about the shaky early performance of the Trump administration, don’t count Senator Mitch McConnell among the hand wringers.

Mr. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and the majority leader, says he and his Senate Republican colleagues are quite satisfied with the Trump team so far. In fact, he said, they are reassured by signs that President Trump is going to hew to a conservative agenda after early fears that the president — a relatively unknown quantity to most elected Republicans — might not really be one of them.

“The country doesn’t need saving,” Mr. McConnell said when asked during an interview in his Capitol office if there was any cause for a senior-level congressional intervention given early chaos in the evolving West Wing.

“I think there is a high level of satisfaction with the new administration,” he said, dismissing concerns about dissonant eruptions from the new president and some of his top staff members. “Our members are not obsessed with the daily tweets, but are looking at the results.”

He added: “No matter what sort of theatrics that go on around the administration, if you look at the decisions that are being made, they are solid — from our perspective — right-of-center things that we would have hoped a new Republican president would have done.”

Mr. McConnell has broken with the president on a few subjects, taking a much harder line against President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia than Mr. Trump has and objecting to some of the president’s “drain the swamp” initiatives, including a proposal for congressional term limits.

Other members of the Republican establishment — inside and outside Congress — have expressed growing alarm about the conduct and competence of the White House. But Mr. McConnell, whose wife, Elaine Chao, was named by Mr. Trump as secretary of transportation, said things might even be turning out better than anticipated.

“Back during the campaign, there were a lot of questions: Is Trump really a conservative? A lot of questions about it,” Mr. McConnell recalled. “But if you look at the steps that have been taken so far, looks good to me.

“It is the kind of thing we would have expected of one of the others, had they been nominated and elected,” Mr. McConnell said, referring to Republican presidential candidates defeated by Mr. Trump who had more conventional political and government backgrounds.

Mr. McConnell’s view clashes violently with that of Senate Democrats and their allies around the country. They have viewed the beginning of the Trump era as a disaster best exemplified by an immigration executive order they decry as unconstitutional and un-American, as well as a selection of cabinet choices they rate as unqualified and carrying the very same baggage that has prevented others from being confirmed in the past.

Even some Republicans have criticized as inept and amateurish the rollout of the immigration order, which is now at the center of a federal court fight. Others have expressed trepidation at the prospect of being hammered in a Trump tweet if they run afoul of the new president.

Mr. McConnell, who is known for being able to take the temperature of his colleagues and to act accordingly, said he sensed no real unease about Mr. Trump on the Republican side of the aisle.

“We have had very good unity on our side,” Mr. McConnell said. “People are genuinely excited about taking the country in another direction. I don’t find any decision that he has made surprising.”

He said Senate Republicans had been enthusiastic about Mr. Trump’s cabinet nominees, dazzled by his Supreme Court pick and elated at the chance to roll back what he called the regulatory rampage of the Obama administration.

“A lot of us were wondering, what is Trump really going to be like?” Mr. McConnell said. “He used to support Democrats and have various views earlier in his life about politics. But when he got to the point of actually having the office and making the decisions, I think the decisions have been very comforting to my members, most of whom are a little bit right of center and further right of center.”

It goes without saying that having Mr. Trump in the White House gives House and Senate Republicans the opportunity to pursue an aggressive legislative agenda if they can find common ground. That prospect should be heightened by installing colleagues like Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama and two fellow Republicans, Representatives Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina and Tom Price of Georgia, at the highest levels of the administration. Mr. Sessions is Mr. Trump’s nominee for attorney general while Mr. Mulvaney has been tapped to run the White House Office of Management and Budget and Mr. Price to head the Department of Health and Human Services.

Mr. McConnell looms as potentially the president’s most important ally in Congress because success in the Senate is central to any legislative victory.

But Republicans have not even started on the legislative end of the new Congress. Now their job is going to be made more difficult by the increasingly hard line that Democrats are taking against Mr. Trump by opposing his cabinet nominees en masse. Mr. McConnell’s frustration at Democratic tactics boiled over Tuesday evening when he invoked a rarely used Senate rule to force Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, to end a speech on the grounds she was impugning the integrity of Mr. Sessions, a fellow senator, by criticizing his record on civil rights.

“It is a superficially poisonous atmosphere, not a fundamentally poisonous atmosphere,” Mr. McConnell said.

Still, he noted that Republicans could do much of their preliminary work in the Senate just by relying on their party’s 51 votes there as they take up health care, tax changes and nominations, and could try to work out the differences with Democrats later.

“Sooner or later we will get around to things that will require some level of cooperation,” Mr. McConnell said. “Hopefully there will be a kind of dysfunction fatigue. I think it will set in way before then.”

His point raises a question: Will that same passage of time produce a kind of Trump fatigue among the now-satisfied congressional Republicans?

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Categories: U.S. News

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