(WASHINGTON) — There wasn’t a dramatic public break or an exact moment it happened. But step by step, Senate Republicans are turning their backs on President Donald Trump.
They defeated an Obamacare repeal bill despite Trump’s pleas. They’re ignoring his Twitter demands that they get back to work on the repeal measure. They dissed the White House budget director, defended the attorney general against the president’s attacks and passed veto-proof sanctions on Russia over his administration’s objections.
They’re reasserting their independence, which looked sorely diminished in the aftermath of Trump’s surprise election win.
“We work for the American people,” Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said Tuesday. “We don’t work for the president.”
Those are surprisingly tough words from a Republican whose state Trump won easily less than a year ago. But after six months of controversies and historically low approval ratings, it’s clear Trump isn’t commanding the fear or respect he once did.
Some Republicans no doubt are giving voice to long-held reservations about a man whose election was essentially a hostile takeover of their party. But it is notable that the loudest criticism is coming from the Senate, where few Republicans are burdened with facing an electorate anytime soon. The situation is different in the House, where most Republicans represent conservative districts still loyal to Trump. For those lawmakers, the fear of facing a conservative primary challenger, possibly fueled by angry Trump followers, is real.
In the most remarkable example of public Trump-bashing, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona is taking aim at the president and his own party in a new book, writing that “unnerving silence in the face of an erratic executive branch is an abdication” and marveling at “the strange specter of an American president’s seeming affection for strongmen and authoritarians.”
The criticism from Flake is especially striking since he is one of just two GOP senators facing competitive re-election races in next year’s midterm elections, the other being Dean Heller of Nevada. The other 50 Senate Republicans are largely insulated from blowback from Trump’s still-loyal base, at least in the short term.
That is likely contributing to their defiance, which is emerging now after an accumulation of frustrations, culminating in the failure of the health care bill Friday. In particular, senators were aghast over Trump’s recent attacks on their…