Trump and McConnell Declare They Have a Common Agenda -- 2nd Update

By Eli Stokols Features Dow Jones Newswires

President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a show of unity in the leadership of the Republican Party on Monday, saying they had a common agenda and describing themselves as longtime friends.

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"My relationship with this man is outstanding," Mr. Trump said with the Kentucky senator standing beside him at a news conference in the Rose Garden on Monday afternoon.

Mr. Trump dismissed the notion the two were at odds as a figment of the media's imagination, telling reporters they are "closer than ever before."

"We're fighting for the same thing. We're fighting for lower taxes, big tax cuts -- the biggest tax cuts in the history of our nation. We're fighting for tax reform as part of that," he said.

"We have the same agenda," Mr. McConnell said. "We've been friends and acquaintances for a long time. We talk frequently. We don't give you a readout every time we have a conversation, but frequently we talk on the weekends about the issues that are before us."

The president's remarks, which came after he and Mr. McConnell had lunch together at the White House, followed months of tension between the two Republican leaders. Mr. Trump has blamed Mr. McConnell for the failure in the Senate of the Republican effort to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and Mr. McConnell has drawn the president's ire for suggesting he didn't understand how the legislative process works.

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Mr. Trump said he would seek to dissuade his former adviser Steve Bannon from backing primary challengers to Republican incumbents whom Mr. McConnell needs to pass party-line legislation. "I'm going to see if we can talk him out of that," he said.

Hours earlier, Mr. Trump blamed Mr. McConnell and Republicans in Congress for the stalled legislative agenda and expressed support for Mr. Bannon.

"We're not getting the job done," the president said to reporters at the outset of a cabinet meeting. "And I'm not going to blame myself, I'm going to be honest -- they're not getting the job done. I can understand where Steve Bannon is coming from."

In the Rose Garden, Mr. McConnell discussed the importance of nominating Republican candidates capable of winning competitive general election races in many states. He cited the failure of 2010 GOP candidates Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell, who won Republican Party primary elections but proved unpalatable to the general electorate, in Nevada and Delaware, respectively.

"You have to nominate people who can actually win, because winners make policy and losers go home," Mr. McConnell said.

Mr. Trump said he would soon be "surprising some people" with an economic-development package, acknowledging he had yet to inform Mr. McConnell about it. And as he spoke about his desire to address "out of control" prescription-drug costs, he drew a distinction between Mr. McConnell and himself.

"They contribute massive amounts of money to political people," Mr. Trump said. "I don't know, Mitch, maybe even to you. But I have to tell you, they contribute massive amounts of money."

He added: "Me? I'm not interested in their money. I don't need their money."

The president returned repeatedly to the idea he and Mr. McConnell promoted at the start of their remarks.

"Just so you understand, the Republican Party is very unified," he said.

Write to Eli Stokols at eli.stokols@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 16, 2017 16:05 ET (20:05 GMT)