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How Lawmakers Are Responding To President Trump


To start this hour - political war within the Republican Party. At his campaign rally in Phoenix last night, President Trump repeatedly attacked Congress. He went after GOP senators and said the Senate should rewrite its rules to force through his agenda, saying this.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If we don't, the Republicans will never get anything passed. You're wasting your time.

SHAPIRO: The president even threatened a government shutdown if he doesn't get money to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Joining us to discuss this is NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Hi, Sue.


SHAPIRO: The president's criticism focused heavily on the Senate, where the majority leader is Mitch McConnell. The two have clashed publicly in the past. What's the relationship like right now?

DAVIS: Oh, it's not great and certainly a bit complicated. I would say there is at least an element of mutual frustration. And I think the difference between the two at least stylistically is the president seems to like to light fires, and McConnell always sees it his job to kind of tamp them out. And he put out a statement today seeking to do just that in which he said - downplayed any sense of friction between the two and said they are, quote, "committed to advancing our shared agenda together, and anyone who suggests otherwise is clearly not part of the conversation."

What is also clear is that there is frustration, as the president laid bare very clearly last night. I think the fact that the Senate couldn't pass a health care bill is the point of that and that wanting Mitch McConnell to change the rules of the Senate. And McConnell is just frustrated by a president who does not yet seem to have figured out a way to work with Congress. And I think it's part of a broader frustration from Republicans that if the president continues to attack them, it's going to make it very hard to get anything done.

SHAPIRO: So last night, the president went to Arizona and attacked the two Republican senators from that state, Jeff Flake and John McCain, who is fighting cancer. How unusual is that?

DAVIS: It's wild. I mean it's absolutely wild. There's just no precedent - modern precedent at least for this kind of behavior - for a Republican president to be attacking Republican incumbent senators in their home states. You know, I've covered the last eight elections - never seen anything like it, can't compare it to anything. So I think that makes it really hard to predict what the impact's going to be with voters.

Flake is facing a very tough primary. It's unclear if the president's going to support him in this primary. He has flirted with the idea of supporting someone else. If he does go down that path, that will put him firmly at odds with Mitch McConnell, who will go all-in to help Jeff Flake get reelected. Senate Republicans always back their own incumbents.

And it's part of a pattern of this administration that's trying to bully or threaten senators like they did with John McCain and with Lisa Murkowski of Alaska during the health care vote. The lesson so far is, it just doesn't work.

SHAPIRO: Speaking of things we have not seen from any recent president - threatening to shut down the government...

DAVIS: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...Is pretty extraordinary for a man in the Oval Office. How real is that threat over the border wall?

DAVIS: There is legitimate concern on Capitol Hill over a shutdown. What's different this time is in the past, those shutdown threats came from Congress. It wasn't clear if Congress could pass a bill to keep the government open. This time, the concern is that the president won't sign that bill when it gets to his desk because, as he said last night, if that bill does not include money to fund a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, he might use that pen to veto that bill. And Republicans are - just have no level of certainty over what the president's going to do. And that makes for a certain amount of apprehension on Capitol Hill.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Susan Davis, thanks a lot.

DAVIS: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.