The one-term president privately directed some Republican senators to avoid making a bipartisan compromise over the US southern border, denying Joe Biden a campaign win, an anonymous source told HuffPost.
“Trump wants to kill it because he doesn’t want Biden to have a victory,” the source said. “He told them he will fix the border when he is president… He said he only wants the perfect deal.”
Mr McConnell referred to the former president as “the nominee” and said, “We don’t want to do anything to undermine him.”
Mr Trump’s alleged demand — and some Republicans’ decision to heed it — has led to confusion, disappointment and condemnation.
“This proposal would have had almost unanimous Republican support if it weren’t for Donald Trump,” an anonymous Republican Senator told CNN on 25 January.
Utah’s Republican Senator Mitt Romney slammed Mr Trump in an interview with CNN.
“I think the border is a very important issue for Donald Trump. And the fact that he would communicate to Republican senators and congresspeople that he doesn’t want us to solve the border problem because he wants to blame Biden for it is really appalling,” he said.
“But the reality is that, that we have a crisis at the border, the American people are suffering as a result,” Mr Romney continued. “And someone running for president ought to try to get the problem solved as opposed to saying, ‘Hey, save that problem. Don’t solve it. Let me take credit for solving it later.’”
North Carolina Republican Sen Thom Tillis told NBC News: “I didn’t come here to have the president as a boss or a candidate as a boss. I came here to pass good, solid policy.”
He continued, “It is immoral for me to think you looked the other way because you think this is the linchpin for President Trump to win.”
Two Democratic Senators facing re-election in the fall — Montana’s John Tester and Ohio’s Sherrod Brown — also attacked Mr Trump’s alleged demand.
“I think it’s crap,” Mr Tester told NBC News. “We need to get that deal done to secure the border. If they want to keep it as a campaign issue, I think they need to resign from the damn Senate.”
Mr Brown also told the outlet, “They need to put politics aside and do this. The public wants it. They say they want it. We want it.”
California Democratic Gov Gavin Newsom said on MSNBC’s Alex Wagner Tonight that Mr McConnell was “just completely rolling over and capitulating.”
He added, “Don’t even get me started with the weakness of the current speaker of the House. I mean, they don’t want a deal, period, full stop. They don’t want a deal. They don’t want to make this a quote-unquote campaign win for Joe Biden,” Mr Newsom said.
“It says everything you need to know about the fraud that they’re perpetuating on the issue of the border,” he continued.
“These guys are so weak. It’s so pathetically weak, this Republican Party and the new speaker said, ‘Oh yes, sir. What else would you like us to do? We don’t care about America. We don’t care about our freedoms and liberties, we care about politics exclusively at the expense of the American people. ‘Cause all we care about is winning for winning’s sake,’” Mr Newsom said.
Mr Trump has publicly signalled that he doesn’t support the deal. On Truth Social on 17 January, he wrote: “I do not think we should do a Border Deal, at all, unless we get EVERYTHING needed to shut down the INVASION of Millions & Millions of people, many from parts unknown, into our once great, but soon to be great again, Country!”