WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's colleagues are largely rallying around the him amid the ongoing attacks from President Donald Trump.
The intra-party spat is forcing Republicans to take sides in a dispute that many members say is counter-productive and pointless. And it's further threatening an uneasy alliance between the White House and the Republican-led Congress that has frayed over a stalled agenda.
After Trump suggested that McConnell, R-Ky., should step down from his leadership role on Thursday, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, Orrin Hatch of Utah, tweeted his support for McConnell. Hatch is one of the presidents' biggest and most vocal supporters in the Senate but he is fiercely loyal to his party and Senate leader.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., one of the newer members, also pledged his support to the majority leader, as did Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who was elected in 2014.
As a former Speaker in NC, I know how difficult it is to manage a diverse caucus with different viewpoints and push major legislation. (1/4)— Senator Thom Tillis (@SenThomTillis) August 11, 2017
Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Susan Collins, R-Me., also announced their support for McConnell.
I look forward to @SenateMajLdr’s leadership as we work to reduce Americans’ taxes.— Dean Heller (@DeanHeller) August 10, 2017
We have more work to do, and we need @SenateMajLdr's leadership and a unified Republican party to continue delivering results to all.— Johnny Isakson (@SenatorIsakson) August 11, 2017
Majority Leader McConnell understands the Senate is a deliberative & diverse body. He enjoys broad support in our Caucus.— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) August 11, 2017
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., told NBC News at a town hall event in Kansas on Thursday that he has full confidence in McConnell.
"I think it's so difficult for any majority leader to herd members of the United States Senate," Moran said. "The pressure has been on to do something. My goal has been to make certain that doing something is actually to do something good. And, I look forward to continue to work with my Republican colleagues, including Sen. McConnell, as well as my Democratic colleagues, trying to figure out how we do good."
And Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is also McConnell's deputy in the Senate, is standing by the leader.
Passing POTUS's legislative agenda requires a team effort . No one is more qualified than Mitch McConnell to lead Senate in that effort.— JohnCornyn (@JohnCornyn) August 11, 2017
The spat is tearing at GOP unity at the same time that election-year politics are heating up.
Both Flake and Heller are facing difficult re-elections in 2018 and both have primary challengers who are running in lockstep with Trump. Flake has been an outspoken critic of the president; in a new book he says Republicans should stand up to the president when necessary. Meanwhile, Trump's team has encouraged Flake's opponent, Kelli Ward, to run and top Trump donors are funding her campaign.
A pro-Trump super PAC had previously threatened to run ads against Heller in Nevada. Republican Senate leaders said they have expressed their displeasure with the White House for threatening the re-election chances of sitting senators.
McConnell has remained steadfast in his support of Flake and Heller in their re-election bids and a pro-McConnell super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, has pledged to financially support both candidates.
But not all members of the Senate GOP have come out to unequivocally back McConnell. Some members have been more muted in their support.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., stayed out of the fray, saying on CNN's "New Day" that he'll "let this president speak for himself and his tactics."
Johnson has been critical of McConnell after the Senate Republican campaign arm stopped helping Johnson's re-election campaign in 2016 because the group thought he wouldn't be able to win.
And Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has not been shy about criticizing the president, did say some of the blame for the GOP's legislative failures is on McConnell.
"I like Mitch, but for eight years we've been saying we're going to repeal and replace ObamaCare; it's not like we made this up over night," Graham said on Fox News Radio's "The Brian Kilmeade Show" on Wednesday.