Trump spat with Senate leader complicates tough agenda

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s attacks on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell come at the worst possible time, if the president’s goal is actually to accomplish the agenda on health care, infrastructure and taxes he’s goading his GOP ally to pass.

Congress, now on its August recess, will return to confront a brutal September workload including two absolute must-do items: funding the government to head off a shutdown, and raising the federal borrowing limit to avert a potentially catastrophic first-ever default on U.S. obligations.

Both will require bipartisan cooperation, something that’s been in short supply on Capitol Hill this year. And that’s all apart from the legislation Trump wants to see, including a rewrite of the tax code to lower rates, a sweeping infrastructure bill, and renewed efforts to repeal Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act after McConnell tried and failed last month — an outcome Trump called “a disgrace.”

So the president’s rhetoric this past week has fueled divisions at a moment when his party should be working together toward shared goals, not tearing each other apart. And his agenda only can pass if McConnell navigates it through the Senate, something the veteran lawmaker may not feel more motivated to do with his president working against him instead of for him.

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“Virtually any substantial goals that the president intends to achieve, whether it’s tax reform or more infrastructure, requires the active assistance of the Senate majority leader,” said Michael Steel, who served as spokesman to John Boehner when the Ohio Republican was House speaker.

McConnell allies say that Trump’s frustration over the failure on health care is shared by the majority leader. And campaign operatives on the political side say it’s crucial that the next item on the agenda — overhauling the tax code — not collapse in a similar fashion. Otherwise Republicans will have a tough time making the case to voters during next year’s midterms that they should continue to control both chambers of Congress and the White House.

“Tax reform is a must-do issue in our view,” Steven Law, head of the McConnell-aligned super PAC Senate Leadership Fund, said Friday in an interview for C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program. “I think if we fail to get action on that, I think people will start to wonder why Republicans are in charge…

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