President Trump’s agenda is getting off to a slow start in Congress as GOP lawmakers search for a path forward on an ObamaCare replacement bill and push other big-ticket items to the back burner.
Republicans have unified control of government for the first time in a decade, giving them a rare opportunity to enact the kinds of sweeping policy changes they have long dreamed about.
But intraparty divisions, mixed messaging from Trump and Democratic obstruction of Cabinet nominees are already slowing the pace of work on legislation.
So far, most of the action in Washington has come in the form of executive orders from Trump — and that’s leaving some conservatives antsy.
“Congress hanging The Donald out to dry. Making him do everything alone! Despicable. No tax cuts, no Obamacare repeal. NOTHING,” tweeted Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report on Wednesday.
Drudge's cries may be a bit early.
It's only been two weeks since Trump's inauguration, though Congress started in early January. And there's still plenty of time for the GOP to rally together and move forward with ObamaCare repeal, tax reform, an infrastructure bill or legislation to build a wall on the southern borer.
At the same time, Drudge isn't the only conservative showing anxiety.
The House Freedom Caucus on Thursday urged GOP leaders to take up a bill to repeal ObamaCare as quickly as possible, even as leaders said legislation was weeks if not months away.
"That’s what the American people expect us to do — and they expect us to do it quickly," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) Thursday. "We strongly encourage that this bill be brought to the floor for consideration as soon as possible so we can begin undoing this law that is hurting American families.”
Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE (R-Wis.) on Thursday vowed that Congress would repeal and replace portions of ObamaCare in the spring and then get cracking on a tax reform plan before the August recess. After that, they could turn to matters like overhauling Wall Street regulations.
And while Republicans hold only a narrow 52-48 majority in the Senate, they are exerting pressure on the 10 Senate Democrats up for reelection next year in states that Trump won.
Most of those Democrats have expressed a willingness to work with the president and could potentially cross party lines to clear some key pieces of legislation.
“We’re very confident and hopeful,” said Dorothy Coleman, vice president of domestic tax and economic policy at the National Association of Manufacturers. “We’re all in on tax reform.”
Still, Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP should grab the chance to upend Pelosi's plan on reconciliation We don't need platinum to solve the debt ceiling crisis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble MORE (R-Ky.) have touted what they plan to accomplish in Trump’s first 200 days — twice as long as the usual measuring stick for a new president’s administration.
In 2009, President Obama came into office buoyed by the Democratic Party’s sweeping election wins. The Democrat-controlled Congress was quickly able to clear a number of legislative priorities, signing 11 laws in his first 100 days, in part because Democrats had a 59-seat majority in the Senate.
But the political climate has changed tremendously since 2009, with the parties more polarized than ever and Democrats willing to use every tactic at their disposal to stop Trump’s agenda.
“There’s the same electric energy as 2009, with folks perceiving big risks, huge opportunities and imminent action,” said Bruce Mehlman, a Republican lobbyist at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas. “But the opposition’s ‘scorched-earth, fight everything’ chorus is accelerated, emerging 15 months earlier than what became the Tea Party.”
Some lobbyists who had been optimistic about an action-filled Congress under Trump are sounding alarm bells.
In particular, they say the intense blowback from Trump’s initial actions in office, apparent in the raft of protests nationwide since he has taken office, is sending a clear message to Democrats: don’t cooperate.
Key Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol Democrats' do-or-die moment Biden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan MORE (N.Y.) and even liberal stalwart Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenIn Washington, the road almost never taken Senate poised to battle over Biden's pick of big bank critic Treasury says more rental aid is reaching tenants, preventing evictions MORE (Mass.), are feeling intense pressure from their base to oppose any and all Trump initiatives, starting with his nominees. And they appear to be taking that message to heart, grinding consideration of many of Trump’s picks to a crawl.
Rex Tillerson was confirmed as secretary of State Wednesday, but received 43 votes in opposition. Prior to him, the highest number of votes in opposition to a secretary of State was 14.
“There are probably ways that relations between Republicans and Democrats in Congress could get worse, but we can’t think of any,” wrote Ian Katz of Capital Alpha Partners in a note to clients.
That matters because, with the Senate split 52-48, at least eight Democrats will need to back most legislation for it to clear it through the Senate. Those eight votes increasingly seem hard to come by, even though some Senate Democrats from red states have made overtures about working with Trump.
“The radical nature of the Trump presidency is forcing Democrats to push back and be equally radical,” said one financial lobbyist. “What we fear is we’re going to be in the same kind of situation we were last year; the House passes all this good stuff and then it dies in the Senate.”
Within the GOP, there are already signs of division that could prove troublesome, particularly when it comes to ObamaCare. Conservatives insist on scrapping as much of the healthcare law as possible as fast as possible, while other Republicans are now emphasizing a “repair” of the law as it exists.
Add in the fact that Republicans have yet to flesh out the details of their replacement plan, and it’s clear that there are major roadblocks ahead.
On taxes, a debate is raging about whether border adjustment taxes have a place in a comprehensive overhaul. House Republicans insist the tax on imports and exemption on exports is a critical piece of the package. But businesses that rely on those imports are already mobilizing against it, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLobbying world Congress, stop holding 'Dreamers' hostage Drug prices are declining amid inflation fears MORE (R-Utah) said Wednesday he’s uncertain about it.
And then there’s the fact that Republicans need to accommodate key Trump priorities. Funding the construction of a border wall, one of the president’s top campaign promises, could sap time, energy and political will that could be spent on other matters.
But there are some reasons for optimism. For one, Republicans are committed to using the budget reconciliation process — which only requires a simple majority — to tackle some portions of ObamaCare and tax reform. Yet that process can only go so far, as it is limited to proposals that have a direct impact on the federal budget.
Some retain optimistic that as Trump settles into office, cooler heads will prevail.
“There’s still an appetite for bipartisan cooperation if possible, but both parties have their ‘Hell no’ choruses and at the moment, those are pretty loud,” said Mehlman.