The steady stream of leaks describing senior officials in President Donald Trump’s administration as privately “upset” or “fuming” over his ambiguous stance toward white supremacists makes for interesting reading, but it hasn’t spurred concrete public action by the aides.
National Economic Council Chairman Gary Cohn, who is Jewish, was reportedly “disgusted” and “upset” by Trump’s controversial comments on Tuesday about the violence last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. Cohn, who was among those standing next to the president when Trump defended some of those attending a rally organized by white nationalists, was “somewhere between appalled and furious,” according to Axios.
Newly appointed White House chief of staff John Kelly was “exhausted and dismayed” as he stood to the side, listening to the president’s remarks, according to Axios. The Daily Beast reported he was in a “bad” mood, and that Trump’s comments “threw him for a loop.”
Those characterizations aren’t exactly a surprise, given Kelly’s facial reactions and body language in a remarkable NBC News video recorded as Trump spoke.
But he, too, isn’t expected to go anywhere. Indeed, it appears the more Kelly introduces some semblance of structure to the White House in hopes of regulating Trump, the more the president is wanting to lash out, as evidenced by Tuesday’s combative press conference in New York.
Shortly after the president spoke, The New York Times reported that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who are both practicing modern Orthodox Jews, were among those urging him “to more forcefully denounce” white nationalist groups.
Such reports fit a long, widely mocked pattern. The president takes some extreme stance, and people close to the president’s son-in-law and daughter ― who are both senior administration members ― immediately let it leak that they tried to intervene.
The ultimate profile in courage, however, may be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
CNN reported that the Kentucky Republican was “privately upset” about Trump’s Tuesday response to the chaos in Charlottesville, in which a woman died when a white supremacist allegedly drove a car into counterprotesters. But unlike scores of other Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), McConnell refrained from speaking out until the following day. (His statement, which did not mention the president’s name, said there “are no good neo-Nazis.”)
So why was McConnell, who has a record of advocating for civil rights, initially silent on the matter? Because he was “hesitant to stoke a narrative about a personal war with the president after Trump has publicly excoriated McConnell for the failure of a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare,” according to USA Today.
The majority leader was also reportedly upset that his wife, Elaine Chao, was caught up in the furor over Trump’s Tuesday comments. The Transportation Department secretary was alongside Trump as he spoke, and later offered reporters inquiring about the feud a cautious response: “I stand by my man. Both of them.”
Despite being “livid,” it’s extremely unlikely that McConnell abandons Trump in the near future, especially as the president pushes their shared goal of tax reform. Still, Trump’s shocking stance on what happened in Charlottesville is yet another blow to the president’s relationship with congressional Republicans ― lawmakers he needs to move his agenda and protect him amid growing calls for impeachment.
“When you’re eight months in and Republicans are all you have left, chipping away at the remaining few is a helluva strategy,” Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff, told Politico in response to Trump on Thursday defending Confederate statues. “The outpouring of critiques from within the GOP about the president’s handling of Charlottesville could serve as a wake-up call for the administration, but if not, it could also be a Republican Party that begins to reassert an identity without Donald Trump.”