The level of distrust that Mitch McConnell had for then-President Donald Trump in the wake of the deadly Jan. 6 riots on Capitol Hill was greater than previously known.
The then-Senate majority leader sought to have Trump disinvited from Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration on Jan. 20, a new book, “Betrayal,” by ABC News’ chief Washington correspondent Jonathan Karl reveals. According to Karl, McConnell “felt he could not give Trump another opportunity to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.”
McConnell even wanted to have the four congressional leaders write a letter to Trump informing him he had been disinvited, but House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) opposed the idea, Karl reports, “arguing it would be an important message of unity” to have Trump attend.
McConnell’s letter and his attempt to stop Trump from coming to the inauguration never came to fruition. Karl writes that’s because after a top adviser to the Kentucky Republican informed Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows that McConnell wanted to disinvite Trump and McCarthy separately told the White House of McConnell’s plan, Trump preemptively put out a tweet — his very last on the platform — announcing his decision to not attend.
But while McConnell may have been angered by Trump, he was also proactively taking steps to limit the punishment Trump would receive. Despite criticizing the president’s contributions to the riots, McConnell famously did not vote for Trump’s impeachment, arguing there were other avenues for holding him accountable.
Karl also reports that in late May, Trump critic Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) texted McConnell to say she believed Senate Republicans made a mistake by blocking the creation of a bipartisan commission to examine Jan. 6. A month later, McConnell called Cheney to say she should move on, and that challenging Trump would only hurt Republicans in the upcoming elections and jeopardize her own reelection campaign.
The dual excerpts from Karl’s book, to be released on Tuesday and obtained by POLITICO, are the latest and most vivid examples of the fraught and complicated relationship between McConnell and Trump.
Spokespersons for Trump and McConnell did not comment on the record for this story.
At one time, Trump described McConnell as his “ace in the hole” in a foreword to McConnell’s autobiography, and the two worked together to usher in a wave of conservative justices. But they also famously distrusted the other, with Trump frequently criticizing McConnell for not doing more to move his agenda. The two most powerful Republicans are now publicly at odds as Trump once again criticized McConnell, this time over his support for the bipartisan infrastructure bill set to be signed into law by Biden on Monday.
In public statements this past week, Trump has taken issue with the substance of the bill and lashed out at the Kentucky Republican for supporting the measure, which includes $550 billion in new spending for improvements and updates to public bridges, roads, airports, waterways and even broadband. Trump derided McConnell as an “old crow” and dared him to appear at Monday’s signing ceremony at the White House. McConnell said he has no plans to attend.
“It gives Biden and the Democrats a victory just as they were falling off the cliff!” Trump said on Saturday night.
Privately, the scorn is even harsher. Trump has plotted ways to try and rid McConnell of his post atop the Senate GOP, should the party take back power in the midterms. And he’s accused the senator of sabotaging him while he was in office by resisting infrastructure legislation then.
Amid the rancor, McConnell has shrugged. According to senior Republican aides, the senator believes his job is safe, and there are no plans to recalibrate or back down from his support of the infrastructure bill, which he has called a “godsend” for Kentucky.
The acrimony between the two men may not be new. But with Republicans poised to possibly regain power in the midterms and Trump increasingly likely to run again for office, that acrimony could create some complications.
In addition to wanting McConnell to step down, Trump and his allies have begun making political threats to House Republicans who supported the infrastructure bill, with some, like his former chief of staff Mark Meadows, calling for those members who did so to be stripped of their committee assignments. In all, 19 Republican senators and 13 Republican House members voted for the infrastructure bill.
“Very sad that the RINOs in the House and Senate gave Biden and Democrats a victory on the ‘Non-Infrastructure’ Bill,” Trump said in a statement. “They just don’t get it!”
Trump’s anger over the passage of the infrastructure bill has a personal element, in addition to the political one. Trump repeatedly talked up his desire to pass an infrastructure bill while president, only to fail to move one seriously forward.
In interviews, former White House officials noted the limited bandwidth Trump and the White House had for getting much bipartisan work accomplished on Capitol Hill. The White House had made passing the United States Mexico Canada Agreement, or USMCA, a main legislative priority, something that gave them little room for high-price infrastructure negotiations — especially in a hostile political environment.
“We went through various fits and starts about how the plan developed, but the president was very hands on, it was something he understood from his own background. It was important to him,” said one former White House official. After passing USMCA, “there was a real effort to go to infrastructure, and then obviously things came off the tracks at the end of the year, and part of that was the president wanted a large infrastructure package and paying for it presented challenges.”
But Trump made clear in statements and interviews that he still pines for an infrastructure deal of his own, and he viewed McConnell as a particular obstacle in all this, for having opposed a $2 trillion infrastructure deal while Trump was in the White House.
“I think [Trump] is upset he didn’t get it done and is looking for reasons to attack Republicans and McConnell in particular,” said a senior Republican aide. “If it was a truly political vote on something it would be one thing, but it’s a substantive piece of legislation that could be good for your district, and to punish someone would be so beyond the pale that it doesn’t make sense.”
While McConnell did, indeed, oppose a massive infrastructure deal under Trump because they did not have a way to offset costs of the bill, he was only part of the reason it got scuttled. In 2019, Trump and Democrats agreed to a $2 trillion infrastructure deal. But there were concerns over how to foot the bill for it, and Trump famously walked out of a three minute meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer after demanding that they stop investigating him.
Trump marched out into the Rose Garden to tell reporters, “I walked into the room, and I told Senator Schumer and House Speaker Pelosi, ‘I want to do infrastructure, I want to do more than you want to do it,’” Trump said. “‘But, you know what? You can’t do it under these conditions, get these phony investigations over with.’”
At the time Pelosi said, according to an aide, “I knew the president was not serious about infrastructure and would find a way out.” And congressional aides and former Trump officials blamed lack of progress on the toxic political atmosphere stirred up by Trump himself.
With impeachment, “any sort of prospect of Trump working with Speaker Pelosi was dashed so it wasn’t even on the table, it’s almost ridiculous to even talk about it because she was in charge of the House,” said a GOP aide. “They were focused on defeating Trump…I don’t think it was ever a serious endeavor. It takes some presidential leadership to get something done like that [on Capitol Hill], and it wasn’t there.”
Aides pushed forward but also recognized the futility of work on infrastructure, and even played along with the running joke it was “always infrastructure week.”
“There was hope, we tried,” said another former senior White House official. “But then the well was poisoned.”
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