Mr. Trump and his staff played a critical role in persuading House Republicans to pass health care legislation in May, with the president personally calling dozens of wavering House members. But the Trump team’s heavy-handed tactics have been ineffective in the Senate, and White House officials determined that deploying Vice President Mike Pence, a former congressman with deep ties to many in the Senate, was a better bet than unleashing Mr. Trump on the half-dozen Republicans who will determine the fate of the Senate bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Trump, who is fond of telling friends he is a “closer,” became more involved over the past few days, reaching out to a few reluctant conservatives like Senators Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, who emerged from an Oval Office meeting on Monday saying he was more optimistic about getting to a yes.
“The White House has been very involved in these discussions,” Mr. McConnell said in announcing that a vote on the bill was postponed until after the Fourth of July recess. “They’re very anxious to help.”
Yet over the past few weeks, the Senate Republican leadership has made it known that it would much rather negotiate with Mr. Pence than a president whose candidacy many did not even take seriously during the 2016 primaries. And some of the White House’s efforts have clearly been counterproductive.
Over the weekend, Mr. McConnell made clear his unhappiness to the White House after a “super PAC” aligned with Mr. Trump started an ad campaign against Senator Dean Heller, Republican of Nevada, after he said last week that he opposed the health care bill.
The majority leader — already rankled by Mr. Trump’s tweets goading him to change Senate rules to scuttle Democratic filibusters — called the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, to complain that the attacks were “beyond stupid,” according to two…