The White House is stuck in damage control mode. President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey last week remains a major distraction. Meanwhile, reports that the president shared sensitive classified information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be disturbing for US allies and partners.
The Comey firing was met with relatively little criticism from the Republican Party. The strongest condemnation came from Senator John McCain, who said he was “disappointed in the president’s decision” and reiterated his call for a special congressional committee to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Some Republicans voiced their outright support for Trump.
Yet Republicans were far more critical of the reported intelligence leak. Key GOP figures including House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has been largely supportive of Trump during his presidency, called for a “full explanation of the facts from the administration”. Senator Dick Durbin, the number two Senate Democrat, called for Republicans to put “country before party” amidst developments that both sides of politics described as “disturbing”, “concerning” and “troubling”.
Despite these distractions, President Trump remains very popular among Republican voters: his approval rating is 84 per cent. But in a media cycle preoccupied with personality and scandal, the party will invariably have a difficult time achieving its political goals.
Senate Republicans are in a very tough position as they seek to rally their party to support an updated version of an unpopular healthcare bill amidst all the media noise. Little attention has been focused on healthcare, which comprises one-sixth of the US economy, with any new bill likely to affect tens of millions of Americans.
So long as White House and intelligence sources continue to leak to the media, scandal rather than policy will lead the headlines. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnelI said it all on Tuesday in his first public comments since the Washington Post story was released: "I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so we can focus on our agenda, which is deregulation, tax reform, repealing and replacing Obamacare."