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Republican Senators Defend McConnell After Trump Attacks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's colleagues are largely rallying around him amid the ongoing attacks from President Donald Trump.
President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump greets Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell during a meeting with House and Senate leadership in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on June 6.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's colleagues are largely rallying around the him amid the ongoing attacks from President Donald Trump.

The intra-party spat is forcing Republicans to take sides in a dispute that many members say is counter-productive and pointless. And it's further threatening an uneasy alliance between the White House and the Republican-led Congress that has frayed over a stalled agenda.

After Trump suggested that McConnell, R-Ky., should step down from his leadership role on Thursday, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, Orrin Hatch of Utah, tweeted his support for McConnell. Hatch is one of the presidents' biggest and most vocal supporters in the Senate but he is fiercely loyal to his party and Senate leader.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., one of the newer members, also pledged his support to the majority leader, as did Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who was elected in 2014.

Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Susan Collins, R-Me., also announced their support for McConnell.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., told NBC News at a town hall event in Kansas on Thursday that he has full confidence in McConnell.

"I think it’s so difficult for any majority leader to herd members of the United States Senate," Moran said. "The pressure has been on to do something. My goal has been to make certain that doing something is actually to do something good. And, I look forward to continue to work with my Republican colleagues, including Sen. McConnell, as well as my Democratic colleagues, trying to figure out how we do good."

And Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is also McConnell's deputy in the Senate, is standing by the leader.

The spat is tearing at GOP unity at the same time that election-year politics are heating up.

Both Flake and Heller are facing difficult re-elections in 2018 and both have primary challengers who are running in lockstep with Trump. Flake has been an outspoken critic of the president; in a new book he says Republicans should stand up to the president when necessary. Meanwhile, Trump's team has encouraged Flake's opponent, Kelli Ward, to run and top Trump donors are funding her campaign.

A pro-Trump super PAC had previously threatened to run ads against Heller in Nevada. Republican Senate leaders said they have expressed their displeasure with the White House for threatening the re-election chances of sitting senators.

McConnell has remained steadfast in his support of Flake and Heller in their re-election bids and a pro-McConnell super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, has pledged to financially support both candidates.

But not all members of the Senate GOP have come out to unequivocally back McConnell. Some members have been more muted in their support.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., stayed out of the fray, saying on CNN's "New Day" that he'll "let this president speak for himself and his tactics."

Johnson has been critical of McConnell after the Senate Republican campaign arm stopped helping Johnson's re-election campaign in 2016 because the group thought he wouldn't be able to win.

And Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has not been shy about criticizing the president, did say some of the blame for the GOP's legislative failures is on McConnell.

“I like Mitch, but for eight years we’ve been saying we’re going to repeal and replace ObamaCare; it’s not like we made this up over night," Graham said on Fox News Radio's "The Brian Kilmeade Show" on Wednesday.