Just like his tweets.
Trump Reveals Exasperation With McConnell
After days of venting, on Twitter and in private, over the Senate’s failure to pass a health care repeal bill before the August recess, Mr. Trump was asked if Mr. McConnell should consider stepping down.
“I’ll tell you what,” Mr. Trump began, “if he doesn’t get repeal and replace done, and if he doesn’t get taxes done, meaning cuts and reform, and if he doesn’t get a very easy one to get done, infrastructure — if he doesn’t get them done, then you can ask me that question.”
Asked if that answer amounted to a yes or a no, Mr. Trump replied, “You can ask me the question. That means ask me that question. Let’s hope he gets it done.”
The comments were a remarkable acceleration of tensions between a president aggrieved at his lack of significant legislative accomplishments to date, and the lawmaker tasked with shepherding his agenda through a Republican-led Congress.
They also signaled a conspicuous desire from Mr. Trump, who often campaigned as a renegade outsider with few meaningful allegiances to either party, to again position himself as a crusader against Washington gridlock — even though he and his allies are now at the controls, grinding the gears.
The laconic Senate leader has strained all year to wrangle his narrow majority. Mr. McConnell has gotten little help from an often disengaged and policy-averse president whose habit of setting arbitrary (and often shifting) deadlines has frustrated senators for months.
Mr. McConnell’s team showed little appetite for a protracted feud. Antonia Ferrier, Mr. McConnell’s spokeswoman, issued a subdued comment in response about the “path forward” to repeal and replace the health care law and added, “But if he has any new statements today, I’ll be sure to send them along.”
— Matt Flegenheimer
Thanks for that, Putin.
Credit Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik
Asked about Russia’s decision to force the United States Embassy in Moscow to slash its personnel by 755 people, Mr. Trump might have echoed the bipartisan outrage of other American leaders.
Instead, the president praised President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, expressing gratitude to a top adversary for effectively downsizing the American Embassy, saving United States taxpayers the cost of salaries.
“I want to thank him, because we’re trying to cut down on payroll, and as far as I’m concerned, I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people, because now we have a smaller payroll,” Mr. Trump said.
His comment was in keeping with his practice of not criticizing Mr. Putin — no matter how tense relations between Washington and Moscow have grown. Two weeks ago, Mr. Putin seized two American diplomatic properties and ordered the American diplomatic staff cut by more than half, retaliating for sanctions imposed by Congress to punish Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election in the United States.
“There’s no real reason for them to go back. So I greatly appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We’ll save a lot of money,” Mr. Trump said.
— Peter Baker
Fire Mueller? Who, me?
Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times
Asked whether he had considered firing Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating the Russian election meddling, Mr. Trump said that he had not.
“I haven’t given it any thought. Well, I’ve been reading about it from you people. You say, ‘Oh, I’m going to dismiss him.’ No, I’m not dismissing anybody. I mean, I want them to get on with the task.”
But the statements stood in contrast to what Mr. Trump has privately told people close to him in recent months. The president has discussed both the possibility of firing Mr. Mueller and his concerns that the investigation will undermine his presidency.
In June, one of Mr. Trump’s longtime friends, Christopher Ruddy, said in a television interview that Mr. Trump was considering firing Mr. Mueller.
Mr. Trump also characterized as tepid his relationship with Attorney General Jeff Sessions (“It’s fine”) and shared his reaction to reports that Mr. Mueller’s investigators searched the home of his former campaign chairman, Paul J. Manafort (“I thought it was pretty tough stuff to wake him up, perhaps his family was there”).
Meanwhile, Mr. Manafort — who had been represented by Reginald J. Brown of the law firm WilmerHale — announced that he was switching lawyers. “As of today, WilmerHale no longer represents Mr. Manafort,” a spokesman for Mr. Manafort said.
Mr. Trump said he had not spoken to Mr. Manafort “for a long time,” but “I’ve always found Paul Manafort to be a very decent man. He’s like a lot of other people, probably makes consultant fees from all over the place, who knows, I don’t know.”
The Justice Department’s investigation into possible links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia’s election interference has engulfed the White House in political and legal scrutiny.
Last month, Mr. Trump described Mr. Sessions as “beleaguered” and said that he would not have made him attorney general if he knew he was going to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
“It is what it is,” Mr. Trump said on Thursday of his relationship with Mr. Sessions. “It’s fine.”
— Michael Schmidt
‘A great favor’ to transgender troops.
Credit Carlo Allegri/Reuters
Two weeks after declaring on Twitter that transgender people would be banned from serving in the military, Mr. Trump said that he is doing the United States military a “great favor.”
The Pentagon has made no move to expel personnel since the commander in chief first announced the ban. And the White House has yet to make public any formal guidance on how the Defense Department is supposed to turn Mr. Trump’s tweets into policy.
But Mr. Trump said that “it’s been a very confusing issue for the military, and I think I’m doing the military a great favor.” He declared that he has “great respect” for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and denied that his ban amounted to a betrayal after pledging to protect them during last year’s presidential campaign.
“I’ve had great support from that community,” Mr. Trump said. “I got a lot of votes.”
He said that the military is “working on it now,” adding, “I think I’m doing a lot of people a favor by coming out and just saying it.”
Defense officials said they were taken by surprise by Mr. Trump’s announcement on July 26. One administration official said the White House is considering urging transgender service members to retire early. But a defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said on Thursday that doing so might be difficult to defend in court.
— Helene Cooper