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Republicans in Congress gambled on Trump and won. Here's why they're worried now

Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- The relationship between President Donald Trump and GOP leaders in Congress started as a marriage of convenience, thrown together by necessity and sustained on the promise of pushing a Republican agenda into law.

Until recently, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tolerated Trump's turbulent debut because they agreed with the direction the White House was heading -- or were confident they could nudge it in the desired one.

Many Republicans backed the travel ban, despite the rocky rollout. They support upending Obama-era regulations and raved about Trump's Supreme Court nominee.

"For most of us, there has been such a yearning ... to get something done, even if they don't agree with the tactic, they applaud the result," said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

But the newfound partnership is showing signs of serious strain. Growing discomfort about the Trump team's ties to Russia, daily dramas at the White House and the increasing unrest at town hall meetings with constituents back home have prompted second thoughts about the alliance.

As the first 100 days tick away, and rank-and-file Republicans head home for a weeklong recess, there is a growing worry that Congress will face a drip-drip-drip of new revelations about the Trump White House that will overshadow the rest of the Republican agenda, such as repealing Obamacare, enacting tax reform and cutting government spending.

"That's what the fear is," said one Republican senator, granted anonymity to frankly discuss the outlook. "It's not a good situation. You can't let this go and not look at it."

In the first significant rebuke of the White House, Republican senators this week tanked Trump's pick for Labor secretary, fast-food executive Andy Puzder, rather than put their votes on the line for someone who hired an immigrant housekeeper who was in the country illegally and had been accused decades ago of spousal abuse.

The Senate revolt came as Trump's firing of national security adviser Michael Flynn exposed lawmakers to a web of unanswered questions about Russian influence on the administration.

For a while, Republican leaders tried to swat back media inquiries about Trump's latest unconventional moves or statements by refusing to engage in what they dismissed as mere distractions from the work of governing.

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