The beginning of General John Kelly’s era in the White House looks indistinguishable from the end of the Reince Priebus era.
After pushing out his diminished chief of staff Friday afternoon and replacing him with Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general and outgoing Secretary of Homeland Security, President Donald Trump began his Saturday as he has many weekend mornings when he is not playing golf: on Twitter, casting blame elsewhere for the setbacks of the week.
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In a series of tweets, Trump railed against the Senate for failing in its second attempt to overhaul Obamacare, which left the president with no legislative accomplishment to point to six months into his administration. “The very outdated filibuster rule must go,” Trump wrote on Twitter, noting that Republicans “look like fools” by allowing “8 Dems to control the country.”
It’s not the first time Trump has suggested ending the legislative filibuster — and it’s something Senate Republicans have immediately dismissed when he has raised the idea in the past. In May, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that ending the legislative filibuster was flat out “not going to happen.” Republican Sen. John Kennedy added at the time: “I’m not going to support a change in rules. The Founding Fathers set it up this way.”
But for Trump, the legislative process was the scapegoat for his biggest legislative setback to date — one that thrusts him into August with Republicans on the Hill trying to start from scratch on repealing and replacing Obamacare, while many in the White House want to move on to tackle tax reform.
After Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) voted against the Republican healthcare bill late Thursday night, Hill staffers braced themselves for the president to take out his anger on McCain, a former Trump antagonist who earlier this month announced he has brain cancer. Trump was uncharacteristically quiet on that front. But on Saturday morning, it was McConnell whom he singled out, instead, on his Twitter feed.
“Budget reconciliation is killing R’s in Senate,” Trump tweeted. “Mitch M, go to 51 Votes NOW and WIN. IT’S TIME!”
Nowhere in Trump’s tweets urging Republicans to “MAKE CHANGE!” and “switch to a 51 majority vote” did he acknowledge that the failed Republican legislation only had 49 votes.
Though Republicans hold a 52-seat majority in the Senate, three GOP senators — Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Susan Collins and McCain — broke from the ranks and voted, along with Democratic lawmakers, to strike down the so-called “skinny” Obamacare repeal legislation. McConnell was trying to pass the legislation through budget reconciliation, which would have only required a simple majority of votes to pass.
“8 Dems totally control the U.S. Senate,” Trump tweeted on Saturday. “Many great Republican bills will never pass, like Kate’s Law and complete Healthcare. Get smart!”
The morning tweetstorm appeared motivated primarily by the failure of the healthcare bill, and by Trump’s frustrations with the legislative process and particularly with McConnell, who White House officials said told them to stay out of the healthcare fight and let the tactician of the Senate handle the nuts and bolts of pushing through the legislation.
But it also came after a two-week stretch of chaotic changes in the White House. A week ago, press secretary Sean Spicer resigned abruptly from his position, after Anthony Scaramucci, a former hedgefund manager and Trump campaign fundraiser, was named communications director. Scaramucci, who opened his tenure in the White House with a profane rant to a reporter from the New Yorker about Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon, has vowed a broad overhaul of the communications shop, that will include firing anyone thought to be a “leaker.”
Son-in-law Jared Kushner, meanwhile, spent the first half of last week in closed-door sessions with the House and Senate intelligence committees being grilled about his dealings with Russian operatives during the campaign and the transition. Trump, meanwhile, has continued to publicly berate his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who has drawn the president’s ire for recusing himself from the ongoing Russia investigation. That tiff has forced a split in his own party as Republicans inside and outside the administration warn the president of the folly of firing one of his earliest campaign supporters.
And lost in all the noise coming from inside Trump’s White House was an announcement from North Korea that its latest intercontinental ballistic missile test showed that the entire mainland of the United States is now within striking range.
But the president has something on the calendar to buck up his flagging spirits. In the middle of the turbulent week of changes, many of them long discussed and overdue, Trump’s campaign announced the president would travel to West Virginia on Thursday to participate in one of his favorite activities: a good, old-fashioned campaign rally.
Brent Griffiths contributed to this report.