On Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) let loose about his frustrations with his newfound friend President Trump. Graham suggested they were on the verge of a bipartisan immigration deal at 10 a.m. Thursday, only to have Trump rip the rug from beneath it two hours later. “I don't know where that guy went,” Graham said at a hearing. “I want him back!”
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also went there on Trump's uneven leadership — but in a more passive-aggressive way.
While talking about languishing discussions to attach a DACA compromise and border security to the government-funding bill that is due Friday, McConnell suggested that the White House had failed to even make its demands known.
“I'm looking for something that President Trump supports, and he has not yet indicated what measure he is willing to sign,” McConnell said. “As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels.”
Yikes. “As soon as we figure out what he is for.”
To be clear, the White House has talked about what it wants from this bill plenty — including at a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers last week. But the messaging from Trump has oscillated between a willingness to sign basically anything and demanding extensive border-wall funding. Lawmakers reached a deal that would include some wall funding, but Trump rejected it at the meeting with Graham on Thursday and has labeled it “horrible” on border security and “very, very weak,” according to Reuters.
Lawmakers proceeded with the bill anyway, but Senate GOP leaders indicated Wednesday they won't devote floor time to something Trump won't sign. In other words, it seems we're headed for another short-term extension that avoids a government shutdown but doesn't address the soon-to-expire Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protections for nearly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants that even Trump has said he wants Congress to restore. The whole thing seems to be a bust, despite weeks of work.
McConnell seems to be about as frustrated as Graham is. Had he said only once that he needed the White House to provide more guidance, it could perhaps be dismissed as a helpful hint. But in back-to-back sentences, McConnell makes crystal-clear that he doesn't think Trump has enunciated this very basic piece of information, even as we're weeks into negotiations. And he seems to sympathize with the idea that lawmakers reached a compromise that they thought would meet with Trump's approval, only to have Trump renege. Trump, after all, said the following last week: “I think my positions are going to be what the people in this room come up with” and, “I'm not going to say, 'Oh, gee, I want this,' or 'I want that.' I will be signing it.”
That is . . . not what just happened. Now Trump has left Congress holding the bag in the face of a government shutdown and with a still-unresolved deadline on DACA, which expires March 6.
This isn't the first time that the often-understated McConnell has softly but firmly criticized Trump's handling of his relations with Congress. Here's what McConnell said in August, before he and Trump hit what became a rough patch in their relationship:
Our new president, of course, has not been in this line of work before. And I think he had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process. So part of the reason I think people feel we’re underperforming is because too many artificial deadlines — unrelated to the reality of the complexity of legislating — may not have been fully understood.
It's clear who he thought was being unrealistic back then, and it's clear who he thinks isn't bringing the goods today.