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Trump Says He Understands Bannon's War on GOP Establishment

by Ali Vitali /  / Updated 
President Donald Trump meets with members of his cabinet at the White House on Oct. 16, 2017. From left to right are Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Monday he can understand why his "friend" and former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon has declared war on the Republican establishment.

"I can understand where Steve Bannon is coming from," Trump said during remarks before a Cabinet meeting.

But later, in an impromptu question-and-answer session with reporters, Trump stood with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and seemed to temper his comments.

Trump and McConnell, a frequent focus of Bannon's anti-establishment ire, took turns touting their "outstanding" relationship while emphasizing shared goals, like tax reform and appointing conservative judges. Bannon is backing several insurgent conservatives in congressional races across the country, and has repeatedly gone after McConnell for failing to properly support the president's agenda — at one point likening him to Julius Caesar in need of a Brutus.

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Trump suggested that while he sympathized with Bannon's efforts, he would try to talk him out of some of his chosen targets.

"Steve is doing what he thinks is the right thing," Trump said. "Some of the people that he may be looking at, I’m going to see if we talk him out of that because frankly they’re great people."

McConnell responded to Bannon's criticisms by saying that his goal is to win elections.

"You have to nominate people that can actually win," McConnell told reporters. He cited controversial candidates like Todd Akin and Christine O'Donnell as examples of how Bannon's brand of conservatism fails to win broad support.

Those candidates are not in the Senate, McConnell said, because "they were not able to appeal to a broader electorate."

His plan is to "support our incumbents" and, in open seats, "nominate people who can actually win in November."

But merely an hour earlier, Trump had praised his former adviser's commitment "to getting things done," adding "I know how he feels." The president took aim at lawmakers who he says are "not getting the job done" on key issues like health care.

"I'm not going to blame myself," Trump said, pointing the finger instead at Republicans in the Senate like Sen. John McCain, who voted against GOP efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare over the summer.

Related: Bannon’s Playbook: How He’ll Wreck the GOP Establishment

Some Republicans, Trump said, "should be ashamed of themselves" despite the fact that most are "really great people that want to work hard."

Last week, the administration announced it will no longer reimburse insurers for lowering costs for customers under the Affordable Care Act, a move Trump celebrated Monday as an end to the "gravy train" and a catalyst for bipartisan action.

The CSR payments "actually brought Republicans and Democrats together," the president said, saying there was an impetus now to "at least come up with a short term fix on health care."

"Obamacare is finished, it's dead, it's gone," Trump said, adding, "You shouldn't even mention it. It's gone. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer responded by saying the Democrats have been working for months toward a bipartisan fix "that would keep premiums down for millions of Americans."

“I'm hopeful that we are nearing an agreement that makes clear that we have no intention of supporting the President's efforts at sabotage," Schumer said in a statement. "If he's now supportive of an agreement that stabilizes and improves the existing system under the Affordable Care Act, we certainly welcome that change of heart.”

And while health care has been a top legislative priority for Trump, tax reform still looms large for Congress this fall. Trump also added welfare reform to the list Monday.

"It’s going to be a very big topic under this administration," Trump said.

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