President Trump led Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to the White House Rose Garden Monday afternoon to claim unity less than two hours after Trump ripped the GOP Congress in general for failing to deliver on health care and other issues.
Their impromptu appearance unleashed a rambling news conference in which Trump hurriedly grazed through a buffet of topics, including hurricane relief in Puerto Rico, condolence calls to the families of dead soldiers, the chances for a tax reform bill and the alleged obstruction of the Democratic minority in Congress.
"We're fighting for the same things," Trump said with McConnell at his side, right after a private lunch at the White House.
McConnell, who has clashed with the president repeatedly, said that "we have the same agenda."
The news conference lasted long enough for Trump to claim falsely that previous presidents had not called the family members of troops killed in combat and then be challenged on that claim after he was criticized on Twitter. Asked again, Trump backed away, saying previous presidents had "probably" contacted family members.
During an earlier Cabinet meeting and in the news conference, Trump predicted a short-term health care "fix" this year and a major overhaul next year, even as he blamed the Republican congressional majority for a string of setbacks.
"I’m not going to blame myself, I’ll be honest," Trump said before the Cabinet meeting. "They are not getting the job done."
Trump also said he understands why former White House adviser Steve Bannon is seeking primary challengers for some GOP incumbents in next year's elections, and also wants McConnell ousted from Senate leadership.
"Depends on who you're talking about," Trump said as Cabinet members looked on. "There are some Republicans, frankly, that should be ashamed of themselves."
Later, after his lunch with McConnell, Trump said Bannon is doing what what he thinks is right, but there are only a few Republicans who deserved to be targeted. The president said he has "fantastic relationship" with most Republicans — with only a few "exceptions" — and they should be re-elected.
McConnell, while declining to comment on Bannon's attacks, said the GOP in past years has nominated very conservative Senate candidates who could not appeal to a diverse electorate and lost to Democrats.
The objective, he said, is to nominate candidates "who can actually win," because "winners make policy and losers go home."
One reason for Trump's complaints about the Republicans: The failure of the GOP-run Congress to pass a bill to repeal and replace President Barack Obama's health care law.
Trump responded last week with an executive order making it easier for associations to buy insurance across state lines, while his administration announced it would stop making certain subsidy payments to insurance companies.
Saying the latter move cut off the "gravy train" for insurers, Trump said Congress is now busy with what he called the failures of the existing law.
"They are having emergency meetings to get a short-term fix of health care," Trump said, said while an overall new plan should come in March or April of next year.
"Obamacare is finished," Trump said. "It's dead. It's gone. You shouldn't even mention it. It's gone. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore."
In fact, most of the Affordable Care Act remains in place, particularly the expansion of health insurance coverage for low-income Americans under Medicaid and a national marketplace in which Americans can buy health insurance, even if they have preexisting medical conditions.
Health care experts said last week that many of Trump's executive actions on health care were aimed at sabotaging the law, something Bannon echoed during his speech last week before a conservative gathering in Washington.
Adult day care center
Trump has also clashed with Republicans over immigration and foreign policy, and he has repeatedly criticized McConnell's leadership. Some Republicans have returned the favor; Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., likened Trump's White House to an adult day care center.
The Trump-McConnell meeting took place two days after Bannon told a group of social conservatives that they should take on the Republican leadership, particularly McConnell, for insufficient support of Trump and his agenda.
"Right now, it's a season of war against a GOP establishment," Bannon said.
At his Cabinet meeting, Trump gave long and somewhat rambling remarks about his change. In addition to health care, Trump talked about tax cuts, tighter immigration laws, and addressing prescription drug prices. He also discussed a relatively new subject: Welfare reform.
"We are looking very, very strongly therefore at welfare reform," he said.
The traditional form of welfare, which came in direct payments to low-income Americans, was ended by a major reform bill by the Republican-led Congress in 1996 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.
It was unclear what type of welfare reform Trump was referring to.