Trump flexes power over GOP

President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKobach fined over Trump meeting memo OPINION: Dear media, Americans don't care about Obama's legacy Make America’s classroom and workplaces safe again MORE tangled with Republicans in Congress for the first time since the election on Tuesday — and won.

Trump took to Twitter Tuesday morning to criticize House Republicans who had voted to curb the powers of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE). He argued that there were “so many other things of far greater importance.” 

Within hours, an emergency meeting of Republicans on Capitol Hill had agreed to abandon the controversial proposal, which had originally been pushed by Rep. Bob GoodlatteBob GoodlatteWarning: Lawsuit ads may be harmful to the health of Americans Black Dem accuses Steve King of 'white privilege' in heated exchange Act now on No Regulation Without Representation MORE (R-Va.).

There were other factors behind that decision. GOP House leadership figures, including Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanRyan reminds lawmakers to be on time for votes Lawmakers consider new security funding in wake of shooting Paul Ryan: ‘Beautiful day’ to catch up with Bono MORE (Wis.) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), were opposed to the Goodlatte proposal, and lawmakers’ offices were subject to a deluge of angry calls from constituents after news of the measure broke on Monday evening.

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But Trump’s rebuke was an important ingredient in the mix. His supporters say his swift victory burnishes his brand as an outsider who is willing to challenge the status quo, as well as displaying his instinctive feel for public opinion.

“Don’t catch him by surprise and expect that he will just play along,” said Barry Bennett, a former senior adviser to the Trump campaign who now runs a consultancy business with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. 

Trump’s populist streak was an important factor in his election win, helping persuade blue-collar voters in the Rust Belt and upper Midwest that he was more concerned with their welfare than playing the Washington game. Staking out a position at odds with Congressional Republicans, as he did on the ethics issue, could help him maintain his bond with those voters. 

Bennett said attempts by pundits and Democrats to downplay or mock the importance of Trump’s intervention would only backfire.

“The establishment will do him an enormous favor,” he said. “They will criticize him for what he did. But that does nothing but reinforce to his supporters that he is who he says he is.” 

Democrats see things very differently. Democratic pollster Matt McDermott tweeted that “Progressive organizations spent the last 12 [hours] whipping calls to House offices. That's the ONLY reason GOP backed away from gutting OCE.”

But some House Republicans said that even if the slew of negative news headlines and constituent calls to their offices had made it difficult to stand behind the proposal, it was Trump's Tuesday morning tweet that effectively sealed its demise. 

"This is an important issue to a lot of members who have been done-in in one way or another by that group; there are a lot of strong feelings on both sides of the aisle," Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), a Trump supporter, told The Hill. He said the ethics overhaul didn't fit in the GOP's "overall agenda."

Trump's tweet "pushed it over the edge," Webster said.

The broader dynamic between the incoming president and Congress will be of pivotal importance in the months ahead.  

Trump won the White House despite support that was tepid, at best, from Capitol Hill Republicans. Ryan declined to campaign for Trump in the final weeks of the campaign and told colleagues it was up to them whether to support the GOP nominee.

The president-elect’s views are at odds with many Republicans on issues both foreign (relations with Russia) and domestic (Social Security reform). Stephen Bannon, one of Trump’s closest advisers, has made no secret of his disdain for the GOP establishment. 

At the same time, Trump needs cooperation from the GOP Congress if he is to translate his campaign promises into legislative action. 

Republican lawmakers also have their own political motivations to stay on the right side of a president-elect who elicits such enthusiasm from the party base.

“I think there are going to be some growing pains here,” said GOP strategist John Feehery, a former Capitol Hill aide who is also a columnist for The Hill. “A [GOP House] majority that has dealt for the past six years with an oppositional president has now got to figure out how to change their oppositional nature. Now they are shooting with live bullets.”

Of course, tension with congressional colleagues is hardly unique to Trump.

In early 2009, just after President Obama had first been elected, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidDems see surge of new candidates Dems to grind Senate to a halt over ObamaCare repeal fight GOP fires opening attack on Dem reportedly running for Heller's Senate seat MORE (D-Nev.) told The Hill, “I do not work for Barack ObamaBarack ObamaTrump slams Obama for doing 'nothing' about Russia before the election OPINION: Dear media, Americans don't care about Obama's legacy Trump tells Democrats they need ‘courage’ to fix ObamaCare MORE. I work with him.”

Some Republican lawmakers needed no cue from Trump to conclude that the move toward gutting the ethics office was a political misstep. In a Fox News Radio interview, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamSenate panel questions Lynch on alleged FBI interference The Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill Judiciary Committee to continue Russia probe after Mueller meeting MORE (R-S.C.) pronounced the original vote by his colleagues in the House “the dumbest fricking thing I’ve ever heard.”

Others downplayed the effect of Trump's tweets, suggesting that the conference would have backed away from the Goodlatte proposal of its own volition.  

The changes would have circumscribed the powers of the OCE and placed it under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee.

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who opposed the changes, said he had predicted an onslaught of negative media coverage by the end of Monday night's vote. Watching TV coverage of the vote early Tuesday morning convinced him the provisions on the ethics body would be toast. 

“I said, ‘Yep, this is gone,'" Simpson said. 

But Feehery, the Republican strategist, asserted that it was Trump who played the decisive role.

“I don’t think they would have backed down unless Trump said something,” he said. 

Scott Wong and Cristina Marcos contributed.