President Donald Trump repeatedly slammed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over the past two days over the failure of Congress to eliminate Obamacare, escalating a war of words with a fellow Republican who is key to advancing the president’s agenda.

“Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn’t get it done. Must Repeal & Replace ObamaCare!” Trump tweeted on Thursday. Later, the president attacked the majority leader in another posting on Twitter: “Mitch, get back to work and put Repeal & Replace, Tax Reform & Cuts and a great Infrastructure Bill on my desk for signing. You can do it!”

Trump is taking on a Republican leader who will have significant sway over whether the president’s legislative agenda advances, including an overhaul of taxes and approving more money for roads and other infrastructure projects.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ken.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ken. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

When the president was asked by a reporter Thursday whether McConnell should step down, Trump said he would withhold judgment. "If he doesn’t get repeal and replace done," along with taxes and infrastructure, Trump said, "then you can ask me that question."

McConnell kicked off the public conflict with Trump on Monday in his home state of Kentucky by saying the president had “excessive expectations” that the Senate could pass a stripped-down version of a GOP Obamacare repeal last month. One reason some people believe Congress hasn’t done much yet, McConnell said, “is because, in part, the president and others have set these early timelines about—things need to be done by a certain point.”

“Our new president, of course, has not been in this line of work before, and I think he had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process,” said McConnell

Different Styles

The back-and-forth between the president and the Senate Republican leader highlights the starkly different governing styles of the two men. The president’s freewheeling and off-the-cuff actions contrast with McConnell’s rigorously disciplined method of leading the Senate. Though McConnell has largely refrained from criticizing Trump, he has on occasion critiqued the president’s use of Twitter as unhelpful to GOP lawmakers’ efforts to stay on message in pursuing their priorities.

Trump and McConnell spoke by phone Wednesday before Trump sent the first tweet, presidential spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Thursday in Bridgewater, New Jersey, near the president’s golf resort, where Trump is on a working vacation.

After Wednesday’s call, the president wrote on Twitter, "Senator Mitch McConnell said I had ‘excessive expectations,’ but I don’t think so. After 7 years of hearing Repeal & Replace, why not done?"

"Obviously there’s some frustration," Sanders said Thursday.

Congressional Failure

The public spat has some Republicans calling for calm as Congress is poised to take on an array of tough issues next month, including the debt ceiling, appropriations and taxes. Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma said on CNN that he didn’t want to take sides and that McConnell and Trump need each other to press on with the party’s agenda. Cole said not repealing Obamacare was a congressional failure, not a presidential one. However, he said, “This isn’t a time we need to throw rocks at one another.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, on Thursday defended McConnell on Fox News. “The president can’t disassociate himself with this,” Gingrich said of the health-care vote. “It was a collective failure.”

Gingrich said it was “goofy” for Republicans to be turning against one another, and that given the complexity of the issue he believes it could take between three and five years and as many as a dozen legislative attempts to replace the Affordable Care Act. Gingrich said he also is concerned that if Republicans bungle attempts to overhaul taxes after the August recess, it could be a political “disaster.”

McConnell spokesman David Popp said in an email Wednesday that the majority leader has already spoken about the path forward on Obamacare repeal and had no further comment. He said Thursday he had nothing further to add.

The clash follows weeks of mismatched strategy and building tension between Trump and McConnell before the collapse late last month of the GOP’s drive to replace Obamacare.

Shortly before a week-long July 4 recess, Trump tweeted that Republicans should simply repeal the Affordable Care Act rather than replace it—just as McConnell was seeking to reel in wayward conservatives to a broad rewrite of the health law. Later, as McConnell’s GOP-only rewrite was losing support, Trump invited Republican senators to the White House and urged them to continue. Finally, McConnell brought a bare-bones repeal to the Senate floor and it failed by one vote.

—With assistance from Margaret Talev and Toluse Olorunnipa

Bloomberg News