President Donald Trump had harsh words for Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a wide-ranging interview with the New York Times published Wednesday — drawing the ire of Republicans already frustrated by a legislative agenda that’s been stuck in the mud.
“Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Trump told the Times. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.”
Trump — who in the same interview left open the possibility of firing special prosecutor Robert Mueller — faced immediate backlash from Republicans.
“The attorney general did what he thought he needed to do based on the law, and I am very disappointed the president would make that kind of statement about a man who I don’t agree with on everything,” Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) told the Hill.
One Republican senator, who spoke to CNN’s Jake Tapper on condition of anonymity, called Trump’s criticism of Sessions “disturbing,” saying that it suggested the president believes the attorney general is his own personal lawyer.
“The attorney general is America’s top law enforcement official,” the senator was quoted as saying on Thursday’s broadcast of The Lead With Jake Tapper. “It’s unclear if he understands that, and that’s pretty disturbing.”
Even former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly sounded off on the controversial remarks, tweeting Thursday that Sessions had been obligated to recuse himself from matters relating to the ongoing Russia investigation.
Sessions distanced himself from the Russia investigation after it was revealed in February that he met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 campaign — despite having testified during his confirmation hearing that he had not.
Trump suggested in his interview with the Times that he believed the recusal led to the appointment of a special counsel to investigate possible collusion between the Kremlin and his presidential campaign, and suggested that Mueller could be crossing a line and exceeding his mandate if his investigation were to look at his or his family’s finances.
Firing Mueller, some in his own party said, would be “catastrophic.”
“Any thought of firing the special counsel is chilling,” another Republican senator told Tapper. “It’s chilling. That’s all you can say.”
“It would be catastrophic if the president were to fire the special counsel,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) added.
Trump facing frustration from GOP
The Republicans’ critical comments about Trump on Thursday underscored the frustration many in the GOP have been reportedly feeling toward him six months into his presidency.
Despite controlling the House, Senate and White House, Republicans have struggled to implement their legislative agenda — and have endured high-profile failures on health care and other marquee items from their platform.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) — who on Thursday said firing Mueller would be “so out of bounds” that it doesn’t merit serious discussion — went on a tear about his party’s haphazard attempt at health care reform, saying the process resembles a “Persian bazaar.”
“I fear that it’s beginning to lack coherency,” Corker told reporters Thursday about the GOP’s effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Trump — who touted his deal-making dexterity during his bid for office — has repeatedly failed to unite his party on health care and other issues. And, according to Politico, some Republicans are beginning to blame the embattled president — drowning in scandals of his own making — for their legislative woes.
“I don’t even pay any attention to what is going on with the administration because I don’t care,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) told the site. “They’re a distraction. The family is a distraction, the president is a distraction.” Simpson continued: “At first, it was ‘Well yeah, this is the guy we elected. He’ll learn, he’ll learn.’ And you just don’t see that happening.”
Republican voters still overwhelmingly support Trump
Still, despite some Republican lawmakers’ frustration with the president, most of their constituents seem to be standing by their man.
Suffering from dismal approval ratings overall, Trump nonetheless enjoys an 87% approval rating among Republicans, according to Gallup. Just one in eight Trump voters regrets having cast their ballot for him, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll published Thursday. And in a Public Policy Polling survey this week, nearly half of Trump voters — 45% — said that they would still approve of Trump if he were to “shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue” — suggesting one of his most outrageous campaign statements was correct.
What’s more, a Rasmussen poll this week found that even with his most recent health care loss and the ongoing investigations into his campaign’s ties to Russia, only 26% of voters think Vice President Mike Pence would do better.