After a Republican push in Congress on a GOP health care overhaul bill melted down last Friday, there are not many opportunities for President Donald Trump to turn things around on Capitol Hill right now, as with little of his agenda in the pipeline, it is possible that the President may have to waits months for a significant legislative achievement to make it through the Congress.
Here is where things stand on Capitol Hill for the Trump Administration.
1. Lots of campaign promises, but little ready for action. With the GOP health care bill seemingly now off the agenda in the Congress, where does President Trump go for a much-needed legislative victory? The answer reminds me of what I said about health care and Republicans for the last six years – they have lots of ideas, but there is no GOP consensus on what to do, or how to get it through the House and Senate. That description could apply to a number of big issues, like tax reform, budget cuts, entitlement reform, balancing the budget, building new roads and bridges, and many other issues. For a variety of reasons, there are no bills ready for action on anything major at this point on the Trump Agenda, as Mr. Trump is definitely behind where things stood eight years ago legislatively.
2. The one bright spot for Trump – Neil Gorsuch. Let’s not ignore the one possible victory in the short term for the President, his choice for U.S. Supreme Court. Neil Gorsuch was untouched in last week’s confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but his final approval is not a slam dunk, as Democrats are threatening to filibuster the Gorsuch nomination. Still, it’s not clear that all Democrats will go along with that, and Gorsuch may get approved after an Easter break on Capitol Hill. That would certainly be a big victory for Mr. Trump and Republicans – but it may be about the only major item they will celebrate on any time soon in the halls of Congress.
3. Tax reform unlikely to produce a quick victory for Trump. While the President has made clear he wants to move on from the GOP health care debacle to tax reform, that is not an item that will fly through Congress. If you think health care reform is tricky, just wait until you get every corporate lobbyist imaginable in Washington, D.C. involved in a major tax reform effort. The last time the Congress approved a tax reform bill, it took a little over a year to get it through the House and Senate and to the President’s desk – that was the Tax Reform Act of 1986. There is a reason they call the lobby outside of the House Ways and Means Committee, “Gucci Gulch” – it will be packed with very well paid lobbyists of all stripes.
4. A U.S.-Mexican border wall is no slam dunk. President Trump has asked the Congress to approve $3.1 billion so his administration can jump start work on a wall along the Mexican border, but that’s no gimme on Capitol Hill. Mr. Trump wants some of that money approved as part of budget plan for the rest of the current fiscal year; a temporary budget runs out on April 28. While that is just over a month from now, the Congress will soon be gone on a two week Easter break, and there are some fears a mini-budget showdown next month could even lead to a government shutdown. One thing that may rile up some Republicans is the need to use eminent domain to get the land along the border to build the wall. Trump likes eminent domain – many in the GOP do not.
5. What about the Trump Infrastructure plan? Through the campaign, there was a lot of talk by the President about a $1 trillion package for infrastructure spending – not all from the government, but a public-private partnership to deliver construction jobs on news roads, bridges and more. But over two months into his administration, the White House has not yet delivered a plan, and Congress is not ready with any bill as of yet. The odd part of this issue is obvious, as Republicans spent the last eight years resisting much smaller infrastructure plans offered by President Obama, mainly on the grounds of the cost. This is another major issue that’s not ready for a vote in either the House or Senate.
6. Trump budget likely to bring even more Capitol Hill intrigue. If you enjoyed the ebb and flow of the internal Republican troubles over health care, just wait until we get to the budget presented by President Trump. That plan is asking for $54 billion more in defense spending next year, offset by $54 billion in budget cuts from non-defense programs. Just as the GOP was divided into different camps on health care, the same is true on the budget. Some Republican lawmakers are aghast at the lack of effort by the White House to deal with the budget deficit. Others want much more in defense spending. There are many ready to resist various cuts put forward by the White House as well. Some of the specific Trump cuts that would be felt in local communities are already drawing fire, with little push back from the White House. Here’s a perfect example of budget concern coming from a red state:
7. GOP finger pointing won’t help produce legislative wins. President Trump on Sunday used Twitter to lash out at conservative Republicans in Congress and outside conservative groups that were opposed to the health care reform bill that ran aground last week, as he singled out the Freedom Caucus for criticism. “Mark Meadows betrayed Trump and America and supported Pelosi and Democrats to protect Obamacare,” said Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA), again going after the head of the House Freedom Caucus. Not only is the country divided politically, but so too is the Republican Party in Congress, and that was very obvious in the last week. If the majority party isn’t united in Washington, that makes life difficult when it comes to legislating. This tweet shows you some Republicans aren’t scared of crossing the President one bit.
8. It’s not just the Freedom Caucus that Trump is mad at. As more stories leak out about the President’s lobbying efforts on health care, it’s becoming apparent that he gave an earful to some Republican moderates as well. On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) acknowledged that he had been on the receiving end of one Trump jab, as the President reportedly told Dent that he and other opponents of the health care bill were “destroying America,” as the New York Times reported that Trump told Dent his position would endanger future efforts in Congress at tax reform. One had Trump wondering aloud, “Why am I even talking to you?” when Dent said he would be a “No” vote.
9. Whither the Freedom Caucus? Whether they’ve been called the Freedom Caucus or Tea Party Republicans, those more conservative Republicans elected in the GOP since the 2010 elections have been very straightforward in the amount of change that they want to see in Congress and in the federal government – a lot. But the problem is, they’ve done little more than just be the block of votes that says, “No” – they have not been a group that’s bubbling over with legislative ideas, they have not been on the floor leading the charge on budget cuts and other government reform proposals. This latest battle over health care prompted one Republican to quit the Freedom Caucus on Sunday – Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) made clear that he wants to see legislative achievements in the future.
10. So, where does that leave Trump? Don’t buy into the stories that say everything is collapsing for President Trump. But don’t go whistling by the graveyard either. I wrote five weeks ago that the GOP Congress had nothing really in the legislative pipeline for Trump to sign, other than some bills that repealed individual rules from the Obama Administration. While those certainly fit into what Trump promised during the campaign, most of that is not tip-of-the-tongue kind of stuff for politicians back home. But it’s all that Republicans have right now in terms of action in Congress. Trump seemed to understand that, as he made it part of his pitch to reluctant Republicans on health care. And for now, there seem to be few opportunities for legislative success in the near term for Mr. Trump. Momentum is important in sports. And it is important in politics as well.