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Friction grows between Trump administration and the GOP

October 8, 2017 at 4:33 PM EDT
President Donald Trump reached out to Democrats again on Saturday to find a way to repeal the Affordable Care Act. His appeal to them, amid reports of tension with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, hint at friction between the administration and GOP. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Hari Sreenivasan from Santa Barbara, California, to discuss the internal party battles.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: This weekend, President Trump once again reached out to Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill to explore a new way to mend or end President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer says he rebuffed Mr. Trump’s overture, but like the president’s previous deal with Democrats on the federal debt ceiling, this is a sign of friction between the Trump administration and the Republican Party.

Joining me now from Santa Barbara, California, to discuss these internal party battles is “NewsHour Weekend” special correspondent Jeff Greenfield.

So, Jeff, map out where the battle lines are. We can clearly say the Democrats are one side and that side is opposite to President Trump — but inside the Republican Party.

JEFF GREENFIELD, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you had President Trump expressed displeasure with Senate Leader Mitch McConnell for a while. What you’re seeing now is something altogether different. You have, for instance, the vice president’s chief of staff telling donors, you think seriously about undercutting incumbent Republicans who’re not cooperating with the president. You have Steve Bannon, a one time senior adviser to the White House, the self-proclaimed champion of Trump celebrating the loss of Trump’s own endorsed candidate for Senate in Mississippi and openly threatening several Republican incumbent senators with primary battles.

And when you look at this enormous situation, you know, when the party might say, well, this might threaten our slim hold on the House and the Senate, the president might say, cut it out. But we’re in altogether different political environment now.

SREENIVASAN:
And how did the tensions with Secretary Tillerson play into this? And also, well, somebody who wanted to be secretary of state at one point as president says, Senator Bob Corker?

GREENFIELD: Well, they are two different things. But I think we need to focus on the Tillerson matter, because it’s a fundamental first order priority in diplomacy. The world has to believe the secretary of state is speaking with the voice of the president. And to imagine undercutting the secretary of state who’s looking to open channels to North Korea by saying, don’t waste your time, it’s almost when Henry Kissinger was feeling out China, Richard Nixon would have said, we’ll never deal with Beijing. And what it means to me is that Donald Trump doesn’t to be behaving as the head of the executive branch. It’s almost as if the president is one person who is almost independent of his own cabinet.

SREENIVASAN: So, should the Democrats be jumping for joy here in this disunity?

GREENFIELD:
There are two cautionary notes here. One is, if there are intra-Republican primary battles, in a state like Mississippi or Wyoming, the odds of the Democrats winning the general election are very small. Maybe in Alabama in December if Judge Roy Moore doesn’t win handily, there might be signs of hope for Democrats. But I’ll be skeptical.

And second, they’ve got their own problems. In 2006, when the Democrats won the Congress back, they put up a lot of so-called blue dog Democrats, centrists, moderates. Well, the Democratic base now has moved significantly left on the issues like single payer, on the kinds of populist themes that, say, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have struck.

So, the idea that that base of the Democratic Party is going to want to see the Democrats expand their ideological reach in an effort to win the Congress, that’s going to create some battles within the Democratic Party.

SREENIVASAN: All of this internal strife and tension isn’t playing well with the general audience in terms of support of the presidents, even in how Republicans perceive where the country’s going.

GREENFIELD: The fact that the right track/wrong track numbers have shrunk is in part because Republicans are less happy with the direction the country’s going. And you do make a really importantly point. If Trump who was at 80, 85 percent among Republicans, if that continues to drop then the dynamic that I described really is going to undergo a change. So, you know, if Trump cannot hold the greatly majority of Republicans, then this kind of freelancing he does is going to have political cost to him. But as journalists who have run out of things to say, what I will always tell you, Hari, only time will tell.

SREENIVASAN: All right. Jeff Greenfield, joining us from Santa Barbara today, thanks so much.

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