File photo of President Donald Trump by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

For Republicans, Trump’s Twitter attacks pose unprecedented political challenge

For many Republicans in Congress, President Donald Trump’s vulgar outburst at a female journalist Thursday crossed the line.

Yet as they expressed disappointment with the president for disparaging the physical appearance of MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski on Twitter, an all-too-familiar political reality for Republicans set in.

Whether they like it or not, when it comes to passing legislation, Republicans are largely stuck with Mr. Trump, controversial statements on Twitter and all.

To enact longtime Republican Party goals, such as rolling back the Affordable Care Act and cutting taxes, GOP lawmakers have little choice but to work with a president who has broken every modern standard of presidential decorum and respect.

“I obviously don’t accept what he says,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a brief interview Thursday. But Collins said that refusing to work with Trump and the White House was not an option.

“The president is still the president, and I will continue to work with him. But I implore him to stop issuing such inappropriate” comments, Collins said.

“I sure don’t like what I heard,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told reporters at the Capitol when asked to respond to Trump’s tweet.

Murkowski later sharply rebuked Trump on Twitter, joining a growing chorus of lawmakers, including Collins, who urged the president to reign in his behavior. “Stop it! The Presidential platform should be used for more than bringing people down,” Murkowski wrote.

In his Twitter attack on Brzezinski, Trump called her “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” and claimed “she was bleeding badly from a face-lift” during a visit to his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago. The tweet drew widespread criticism for being deeply offensive to women.

Republicans understand the political damage Trump’s tweeting has had on his image with voters. Trump’s approval rating remains stuck below 40 percent, the lowest for a new president in the history of modern polling.

According to a recent PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll, a majority of Americans believe Trump’s use of Twitter is “reckless and distracting.”

“The stronger a president is, the more influence a president has. And the lower those approval ratings are, the weaker a president is. That’s just the way the system works,” Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, told PBS NewsHour.

But McCain said he remained focused on Trump’s policy agenda, not his attacks on Twitter. “A long time ago, I said I don’t pay much attention to what he says, I pay attention to what he does,” McCain said.

Democrats acknowledged the tough place Republicans find themselves in, as they seek to strike a balance between distancing themselves from Trump’s most explosive comments, and working with him on issues like health care.

“I really do think they’re very embarrassed by his conduct,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, said in a brief interview, referring to Republican lawmakers. Trump is “the most powerful person in the most powerful country in the world, and his actions have somewhat cheapened the office,” he added.

Still, Republicans are dependent on Trump, Tester argued, making it harder for them to break with the president over his personal actions. “He is carrying forward their agenda,” Tester said.