In what’s become a ritual, GOP lawmakers are returning to Washington to take action on a major agenda item but are once again facing fallout from the President’s tweets.
Republicans said Monday they’re not going to let that get in the way of a major storyline this week.
Sen. Mike Rounds acknowledged that the President’s tweets over the weekend have become a distraction, and he wished the President had chosen his words more carefully.
“I think it does detract from the agenda,” the South Dakota Republican told CNN, adding that regardless whether Trump’s tweets were accurate, the President could have been more carefully worded, “saying perhaps ‘the last administration’ or ‘the Justice Department’ rather than going directly in and naming President Obama.”
While in West Palm Beach this weekend, the President accused the Obama administration of wiretapping Trump Tower before last year’s election, without presenting any supporting evidence.
The White House said Sunday that Trump wants congressional intelligence committees to expand their probe of Russian meddling in the election to also include whether the executive branch interfered as well
When asked whether Trump’s tweets take attention away from Obamacare, Sen. Jim Lankford, R-Oklahoma, responded, “That doesn’t slow our work down.”
North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis talked about ways to avoid any distractions. “Got to stay focused on what we can do over here,” he said. “It’s continuing that discussion and putting the pressure on us to come up with a solution. We didn’t create the problem, but we’ve got to solve it.”
Republican Sen. Rob Portman argued that the House and Senate are still making progress on legislative issues like health care, rolling back regulations, and tax reform. “That’s actually happening.”
Top Capitol Hill and White House officials worked diligently over the weekend to finalize legislation to dismantle the health care law, a replacement plan for which Republicans unveiled Monday night.
Top White House officials, led by OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, led a Friday meeting, and on Saturday House Speaker Paul Ryan, Mulvaney, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price huddled by phone with key committee leaders to work through final issues and prepare for the rollout of legislation.
GOP leaders said little about the explosive controversy around Trump’s wiretapping claims and instead left it to intelligence committee chairmen to respond with written statements.
On Sunday talk shows, the main topic was the President’s early morning tweets and the reaction from Justice Department officials. Instead of top surrogates launching a public relations effort highlighting that Republicans were moving forward on the health care overhaul, the GOP once was again taken off topic and forced to field questions about a new White House directive to investigate the 2016 election.
“We’re trying to get the facts behind it and be able to see what he’s concerned about and where he’s concerned about that,” said Lankford, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Obviously FISA courts have been very, very solid about not tracking American citizens and isolating any communication with any US person. So we’re just going to try to get all the facts behind what he’s proposing.”
Behind the scenes, aides say they’re going to keep working on health care.
“This week will be about Obamacare, regardless of this week’s episode of Saturday morning Tweets from Mar-a-lago,” said one senior GOP aide. Once health care legislation gets introduced, the aide insisted, the spotlight will turn back to Obamacare.
Another GOP Senate aide said their office refuses to be distracted by the latest frenzy over Trump’s tweets.
“Just because the coverage isn’t there, doesn’t mean the work isn’t still happening,” the aide said. “Do we wish he’d tweet less? Yes. Are his tweets going to slow us down? No.”
Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas said on CNN that Trump’s wiretap claims are “not going to overplay our ability to move forward with what Donald Trump talked about, and that is the American people want and need to have jobs.”
Asked if all the recent Russia-related news is slowing down the Republican agenda, Rep. Jason Chaffetz argued on Fox News Monday morning that it’s not a diversion.
“We can walk and chew gum too,” he said.
Putting it in slightly different words, Portman noted this was not Trump’s first tweet that made news.
“It’s not the first tweet he’s sent out,” Portman said. “We continue to do our work. That’s what, I think, is missing in some of the reporting — understandably.”