WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared jointly in the White House Rose Garden on Monday to declare they’re in lockstep on the Republican agenda, projecting unity despite criticism they’ve exchanged publicly in recent months.
“We’re fighting for the same thing,” Trump told reporters at the hastily assembled news conference.
“My relationship with this gentleman is outstanding,” he added, saying they’re “closer than ever before.”
McConnell (R-Ky.) underscored the president’s sentiments.
“We have the same agenda,” he said. “We’ve been friends and acquaintances for a long time. We talk frequently.”
Trump and McConnell face mounting pressure to pass landmark legislation before the president’s first year is out, namely advancing their proposed tax code overhaul and tax rate cuts.
The governing party otherwise enters the midterm elections without a major legislative win.
Trump in August repeatedly referenced McConnell’s failure to shepherd through his chamber a bill to dismantle Obamacare. The senator said then the president had “excessive expectations” on how quickly the democratic process works.
The pair had lunch together Monday at the White House.
It was Trump’s latest outreach to a top Senate Republican as he continues his feud with retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn). The president has golfed in recent days with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
With a “very small few” as an exception, “I have a fantastic relationship with the people in the Senate and with the people in Congress,” Trump said.
But hours earlier, he had defended the “season of war” that his former chief strategist Steve Bannon has declared to unseat so-called establishment Republicans led by McConnell.
“I’m not going to blame myself, I’ll be honest. They are not getting the job done,” Trump said. “ . . . And I can understand where Steve Bannon is coming from.”
Fielding a question about Bannon, McConnell cited failed fringe campaigns and said Republicans can only keep their majority by running viable candidates with broader appeal.
“You have to nominate people who can actually win, because winners make policy and losers go home,” the leader said.
Amid his show of unity with McConnell, Trump assailed Democrats, including his former presidential campaign rival Hillary Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, with whom the president has recently sought to negotiate.
“Hillary, please run again,” Trump mocked, criticizing Clinton for defending black NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem in protest of racial and social injustice.
The president tweeted that Schumer (D-N.Y.) “hated the Iran deal made by President Obama, but now that I am involved, he is OK with it. Tell that to Israel, Chuck!”
A Schumer spokesman declined to comment but pointed to the senator’s statement Friday saying remaining in the deal is “in our national security interest.”
Trump said his decision to decertify Iran’s compliance with the denuclearization deal but remain in the accord while Congress works to strengthen it may result in “a total termination,” but he hopes for a “very positive” outcome.
Separately, he blamed the Cuban government in what are believed to be sonic attacks that have hurt nearly two dozen U.S. diplomats and their family members in Havana.
“I do believe Cuba’s responsible,” he said of injuries that range from hearing loss to concussion.