McConnell contradicts Trump: I never told him that his phone call with Ukraine's president was innocent

McConnell contradicts Trump: I never told him that his phone call with Ukraine's president was innocent

It feels like a not-great development for Trump if McConnell is turning down invitations to go to bat for him on this. Trump, October 3:

“I read Mitch McConnell’s statement yesterday, and he read my phone call. And, as you know, he put out a statement that said that was the most innocent phone call he’s read. And I spoke to him about it, too,” Mr. Trump said at the time. “He read my phone call with the president of Ukraine. Mitch McConnell, he said, ‘That was the most innocent phone call that I’ve read.’ I mean, give me a break.”

It’s true that McConnell put out a statement last month defending what Trump said to Ukraine’s president during their July phone call. “I’ve read the summary of the call. If this is the ‘launching point’ for House Democrats’ impeachment process, they’ve already overplayed their hand. It’s clear there is no quid pro quo that the Democrats were desperately praying for,” his office said to Politico. When he was asked about his alleged phone call with Trump today, it would have been the easiest thing for him to agree that they also spoke about it — or, if he was unwilling to fib on that point, to at least reiterate that he agrees with Trump that the call was perfectly innocent even if he can’t recall speaking directly to him about it.

Instead, this. Hoo boy:

Maybe that Bill Taylor testimony earlier today has Cocaine Mitch worried that this is going to get worse and it’s time to start quarantining the caucus from the president as best he can. This wasn’t the only time he declined to defend Trump today, either. While most Senate Republicans spent the day dutifully spinning for him for comparing the impeachment process to a “lynching,” McConnell was not so inclined:

Proof enough that Mitch has a case of Trump fatigue and it’s worsening? No? Well, then, go read his WaPo op-ed from a few days ago titled, “Withdrawing from Syria is a grave mistake.” He was careful not to use the word “Trump” in the piece but his argument went right at the president — and at Trumpist foreign policy generally:

If we Americans care at all about the post-World War II international system that has sustained an unprecedented era of peace, prosperity and technological development, we must recognize that we are its indispensable nation. We built this system, we sustained it, and we have benefited from it most of all.

When the United States threw off the comforting blanket of isolationism in the 1940s and took the mantle of global leadership, we made the whole world better, but we specifically made it much better for the United States. If we abandon that mantle today, we can be sure that a new world order will be made — and not on terms favorable to us…

As we seek to pick up the pieces, we must remain guided by our national interests and not emotions. While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s offensive into northeastern Syria is misguided, is it really the case that the United States would prefer that Russian, Syrian and Iranian forces control the region rather than Turkey, our NATO ally?

Whether or not the United States would prefer that Russia control the region or not, that’s what’s happening: The deal reached today between Putin and Erdogan calls for joint Russian/Turkish patrols of the border area to “remove” Kurdish troops, with help from Assad’s forces. McConnell has all sorts of ways he could have communicated his unhappiness about Syria to Trump — privately, of course, through leaks to the media, or by deputizing lieutenants within the caucus to make media appearances politely criticizing the decision. He certainly didn’t need to offer the Washington Post an op-ed under his own name.

So what are we to make of the fact that he did? Or the fact that he continues to apply pressure to Trump on Syria, tweeting this earlier this afternoon?

I continue to believe there’s near-zero chance of Trump being removed by the Senate or of McConnell recommending to his caucus that the president be removed. But, with Trump’s agenda dead in Congress thanks to Pelosi and with McConnell staring at five more years potentially of managing the daily multiple Trump crises, I think he may have reached the point where he’s concluded it’s time for a little more “separation” between the president and the Senate. He can read the impeachment polls as well as anyone else can. The right’s not going to turn on POTUS but there’s enough of a chance of a general public backlash that the Senate could flip — Collins, Gardner, McSally, Ernst, the two Georgia seats all could go blue in a worst-case scenario. McConnell’s thinking ahead, knowing that GOP control of the Senate may be the only obstacle to President Warren enacting her policy wishlist in 2021. If Trump’s going down, Republicans senators need to stay afloat.

In lieu of an exit question, here are Graham and Newt Gingrich backing Trump up on the “lynching” in the House. If I were Trump watching Graham compartmentalize his disgust over the Syria withdrawal this way, going all-in on the president’s behalf despite having just been shafted by him on foreign policy, I’d wonder why I would ever need to do Graham a favor or listen to him on policy. McConnell’s at least signaling to Trump that his further support may come at a cost. Graham seems willing to shill endlessly for Trump for nothing in return — and in this case, not even on a matter of great import. On his choice of words. In a tweet.

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