THE MEMO: Trump takes the fight to Congress

THE MEMO: Trump takes the fight to Congress
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign MORE will address a joint session of Congress for the first time on Tuesday night, and Republican insiders say he may not be in the mood to play nice. 

Trump won election as the consummate outsider; his victory came in the face of considerable skepticism from Republicans on Capitol Hill, who often shrank from his flamboyant pronouncements and abrasive personal style. 

Now, just over a month into his presidency, Trump is coming to Congress on a mission to ensure that his campaign promises become law.

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“It’s easily the most important speech of his young presidency,” said Alex Conant, who worked on the presidential campaign of one of Trump’s 2016 GOP primary rivals, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioApple under pressure to unlock Pensacola shooter's phones Senators offer bill to create alternatives to Huawei in 5G tech Surging Sanders draws fresh scrutiny ahead of debate MORE of Florida. “So far, he has spoken a lot to his base, but he has not spoken publicly to Congress, and he has put very little pressure on them.”

John Feehery, a Trump-supporting strategist and a former aide to Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, encouraged the president to take the fight to Congress.

“The president needs to make a bold and stark case for his legislative agenda. He shouldn't play nice or expect to get a favorable reception,” said Feehery, who is also a columnist for The Hill. “This is his chance to tell the American people to lobby the Congress on his behalf and he shouldn't mince words.”

Aides and allies to Trump are behind that approach.

“The audience that the president is speaking to is the American people,” said one longtime Trump ally. “That is always his audience.”

During last year’s election campaign, Trump had especially frosty relations with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanWarren now also knocking Biden on Social Security Biden alleges Sanders campaign 'doctored video' to attack him on Social Security record Sanders campaign responds to Biden doctored video claims: Biden should 'stop trying to doctor' public record MORE (R-Wis.). Ryan refused to campaign for the GOP nominee in the final weeks of the presidential race and declined to encourage his colleagues to do so. When Trump attacked a judge in a Trump University lawsuit over his Mexican heritage last summer, Ryan called it the “textbook definition of a racist comment.”

Ryan has long since made his peace with Trump and will now be sitting behind the president during his big national address. Touring a section of the border with Mexico earlier this week, the Speaker suggested he would keep Congress on board with Trump’s plan to make immigration controls stricter — though he did not specifically mention the president’s pledge to build a border wall, which Trump reiterated in his address to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday.

“Congress is committed to securing the border and enforcing our laws,” Ryan said in a statement, “and together with the Trump administration we will get this done.”

Many Republican strategists believe there is still considerable ambivalence about Trump among GOP lawmakers, however.

Rick Tyler, who worked for Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWhat to watch for on Day 2 of Senate impeachment trial Senate Republicans muscle through rules for Trump trial Cruz: White House not expected to push motion to dismiss impeachment articles MORE (Texas) in last year’s Republican primary, asserted that Republican lawmakers who are fully on board with Trump are in the minority. 

More of them “like what he is proposing substantively but not how he conducts himself stylistically,” Tyler asserted.

One key question is how effective it would be for Trump to adopt a combative approach in the speech. His appeal to voters who were discontented with the political system was a big part of his shock win last November. But he now needs Congress to put his campaign promises into action. 

Congress will determine whether Trump’s frequent promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act will come true. The border wall with Mexico has been estimated to cost up to $21 billion — money that Congress will have to appropriate. Other key issues, including tax reform, also rest in lawmakers’ hands.

Trump skeptics, including Tyler, argue that the president would be foolish to be overly confrontational with Congress.

Frontal attacks, the strategist said, “would be mere political posturing.” 

“It doesn’t move the ball toward the goal of legislative action,” he added. “It’s a lot of clanging of gongs and cymbals, but it doesn’t mean very much.”

Since the election, Vice President Pence — a former six-term congressman from Indiana — has played a key role in trying to soothe lingering tensions between the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill. The White House’s director of legislative affairs, Marc Short — himself a longtime Pence aide — has also been central to that effort.

The Trump ally argued that relations between the administration and Republicans in Congress are better than is generally understood.  

“I don’t think there is any repair work to be done, no,” the source insisted. “I think it is going to be a very friendly environment. You have to remember there are constant communications between the White House and the Hill now.”

Conant asserted that Trump has the Republican grassroots largely on his side and that he can leverage that power in his dealings with Congress.

“Congress’s natural state is gridlock,” he said. “It only does big things when it feels political pressure from the public and the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.” 

He added, “If President Trump talks about his agenda — instead of his election victory — I think it will be very well received.” 

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.