On Washington

By CARL HULSE

WASHINGTON — By preventing President Barack Obama from filling a Supreme Court vacancy, Senator Mitch McConnell secured Donald J. Trump the signature accomplishment of his young presidency: the confirmation of Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.

But any gratitude President Trump felt for Mr. McConnell’s first-of-its-kind maneuver appears to be exhausted as the president, upset at the failed health care repeal, has turned his Twitter fire and fury on Mr. McConnell, the one person he may most need to execute a stalled Republican legislative agenda.

It was a strikingly public display of the growing distance and distrust between the president and his supposed Republican allies on Capitol Hill, one with major implications for navigating a complex set of obstacles the party faces next month, from keeping the government open to preventing a devastating fiscal default.

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One Republican said it would be as if F.D.R. had undermined Eisenhower on the eve of D-Day. The unusual intramural conflict had the capital’s full attention even as the United States and North Korea traded warlike nuclear threats.

Mr. McConnell, traveling in his home state, Kentucky, during the August recess, touched off the feud on Monday when he seemed to question the president’s grasp of the complexities of government. He told the Rotary Club of Florence that because of the president’s inexperience in public office, “he had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process.” Mr. McConnell, the majority leader, said part of the reason the Republican-led Congress is being portrayed as inept is that Mr. Trump and his circle have set unrealistic timelines for success that can’t be met and then have set off a storm of criticism when they are missed.

Those comments astonished some in the White House since, in their view, congressional Republicans had seven years to prepare for repeal of the health care law. To them, it was the Senate that couldn’t deliver when its moment of truth arrived.

“You can see the president’s tweets,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House spokeswoman, told reporters on Thursday in Bedminster, N.J., where Mr. Trump is staying at his golf resort. “Obviously, there’s some frustration.”

There certainly was in the mind of Mr. Trump, who spent two days taunting Mr. McConnell over Twitter before stopping just short of calling for him to step aside — for now. He encouraged reporters to revisit that question if Mr. McConnell fails to repeal the health care law, enact tax cuts and send a major infrastructure bill to the president’s desk.

Mr. McConnell, refraining from throwing more fuel on the fire he started, has issued no official response to the Twitter barrage, a political assault made even more complicated by the fact that his wife, Elaine Chao, serves as secretary of transportation in Mr. Trump’s cabinet.

Others familiar with Mr. McConnell’s thinking said his initial comments were aimed at deterring the White House from setting hard goals for passing tax cuts and establishing a timeline that might be impossible to meet. The fear is that Republicans will again get pummeled if they come up short.

Republicans note that they have very little margin for error with just 52 seats in the Senate, and even that number depends on the availability of Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who is being treated for brain cancer. Some also point out that Mr. Trump bears some responsibility for the health care debacle since his hammering of Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, helped alienate her. Plus, there was his past derision of Mr. McCain, who joined Ms. Murkowski and Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, in stalling Mr. McConnell’s push for repeal.

Like many of his actions over the past few weeks, the president’s fusillade against Mr. McConnell seems aimed at reassuring his core supporters and shifting the blame for a lack of accomplishments from the White House to Congress — even at the expense of his fellow Republicans. It could also help appease those conservatives unhappy with Mr. Trump for endorsing Senator Luther Strange, Mr. McConnell’s chosen candidate, over two more anti-establishment Republican contenders in the coming special Senate election in Alabama.

In some respects, taking on Mr. McConnell is not that politically risky for Mr. Trump. Congressional Republican leaders have far lower approval ratings than the president, whose numbers are at a record low for this point in a first term. And Mr. McConnell has never been popular with the anti-Washington crowd of conservative Republicans who align themselves much more with Mr. Trump.

Mr. McConnell and his political team have regularly feuded with hard-right conservative groups as they have tried to unseat him and other Republican incumbents. In 2014, Mr. McConnell vowed that he intended to “crush them everywhere” and made good on that statement as he repelled the challenges from the right.

He gained a reprieve from their hostility with his machinations on the Supreme Court, winning the respect of conservatives for preserving the seat for Mr. Trump to fill even as he faced harsh criticism from Democrats. But just last month, one leading conservative activist renewed the criticism, publicly calling Mr. McConnell the “head alligator” in the Washington swamp.

The real risk for Mr. Trump in going after Mr. McConnell emanates from Capitol Hill, where the majority leader has the solid backing of fellow Republicans who just witnessed the president unload on their colleague despite his going to the mat for him on the Supreme Court vacancy and other tough policy issues. How they respond could have significant ramifications for Mr. Trump and his tenure.

Mr. McConnell’s original point was that the president was still learning how things work in Washington. By publicly berating the man who should be his most indispensable ally on Capitol Hill, Mr. Trump may have affirmed Mr. McConnell’s point.

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