WASHINGTON ― Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday responded to reports that former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon is recruiting candidates to challenge GOP incumbents in next year's midterm elections as a way to better advance the president's agenda.
"You have to nominate people who can actually win. Winners make policy and losers go home," McConnell said during a White House press conference with President Donald Trump at his side, arguing that mainstream candidates have a better shot at getting elected.
To bolster his point, the Kentucky Republican ticked off several failed GOP Senate candidates in recent years, including Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, Sharron Angle in Nevada, Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana.
"Our operating approach will be to support our incumbents and in open seats, to seek to help nominate people who can actually win in November. That's my approach ― that's the way you keep a governing majority," McConnell said.
Bannon was emboldened by last month's primary victory of Roy Moore ― his preferred candidate in the race for the Alabama GOP Senate nomination ― and is seeking to recruit candidates to topple incumbents in other states, including Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. Bannon is also supporting a primary challenge to Jeff Flake in Arizona.
Asked about Bannon's intentions for a "war" with the GOP earlier on Monday, Trump said he "fully" understood his former aide's frustrations with Congress.
"I'm not going to blame myself, to be honest. They are not getting the job done," Trump said of GOP senators during a meeting with his Cabinet at the White House.
Just hours later, however, in a hastily-arranged press conference in the White House Rose Garden with McConnell at his side, Trump seemed to contradict himself by saying he would try to talk Bannon out of some of his primary targets.
"I'll see if we can talk him out of that because I think they're great people," he said.
Trump also sought to tamp down speculation about his frayed relationship with McConnell, whom he has criticized repeatedly over the stalled GOP legislative agenda.
"Despite what we read," Trump insisted, "we're probably now closer than ever before.
"The relationship is very good," he added.