Trump ready to crack the whip on GOP Congress

Having signed a flurry of executive orders, President Trump will soon shift his attention to Congress as he tries to push through an ambitious agenda, including an overhaul of ObamaCare, a border wall and a massive infrastructure package.

The White House won't only be working back channels with congressional leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers. Allies say Trump will likely bring his bully pulpit on the road, holding campaign-style events that specifically target vulnerable Democrats in red states like Montana and West Virginia. 

Then there's his Twitter account: Hill Republicans say Trump will have no problem singling out through social media lawmakers he feels are standing in the way of his agenda.

ADVERTISEMENT

"He's going to take names. He’s going to look at the people who are supportive and who aren’t," Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), one of the few Republicans who has at times criticized Trump, told The Hill. "I suspect he will be rigorous in calling attention to those he believes are hampering his legislative efforts."

Since taking office two weeks ago, Trump has turned to the same no-holds-barred approach that won him legions of fans on the campaign trail, picking fights with the media, Democratic protesters, foreign leaders and corporations sending jobs overseas.

So far, the new president has been much more reserved when it comes to going after lawmakers. But several Republicans said it’s only a matter of time before Trump cracks the whip on Capitol Hill.

He’s already given rank-and-file lawmakers a taste of what could be coming if they don’t fall in line. Last month, a series of tweets from Trump derailed House Republicans’ plans to gut an independent congressional ethics office.

And just last week, Trump launched a blistering attack on Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain10 factors making Russia election interference the most enduring scandal of the Obama era Earth Day founder's daughter: Most Republican leaders believe in climate change in private Trump gives nod to vulnerable GOP Sen. McSally with bill signing MORE (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars DOJ: Dem subpoena for Mueller report is 'premature and unnecessary' Dems reject Barr's offer to view Mueller report with fewer redactions MORE (R-S.C.), tweeting that they’re “weak on immigration” and “always looking to start World War III” after the senators slammed his executive order on refugees.

Those types of personal attacks from Trump are certain to fire up his loyalists and could inspire primary challenges to his GOP targets.

“He could whip votes from Twitter,” said Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), who saw Trump personally get involved in his state’s GOP chairmanship race to defeat the handpicked candidate of rival Gov. John Kasich (R), a onetime presidential rival. “He’s definitely got an agenda and he wants to push it through. He’s going to use every arrow in his quiver to get those things accomplished."

“When he gets focused on something and he wants to get it done, he gets after it. That’s definitely a lesson I learned,” Joyce continued. “An enraged Twitter finger could really hurt somebody.”

But Trump allies predicted his interactions with the Hill wouldn’t be “all stick, no carrot.”

Trump speaks regularly by phone to GOP congressional leaders, including Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday MORE (R-Wis.) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). And in recent weeks, Trump and Vice President Pence have personally phoned senior and rank-and-file lawmakers as well, sources said. 

The president also is expected to regularly host lawmakers at White House dinners, meetings and other events following his recent kick-off reception with Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Mueller report is a deterrent to government service Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller Anti-smoking advocates question industry motives for backing higher purchasing age MORE (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHillicon Valley: House Dems subpoena full Mueller report | DOJ pushes back at 'premature' subpoena | Dems reject offer to view report with fewer redactions | Trump camp runs Facebook ads about Mueller report | Uber gets B for self-driving cars Dem legal analyst says media 'overplayed' hand in Mueller coverage Former FBI official praises Barr for 'professional' press conference MORE (D-N.Y.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Hill leaders.   

“That’s more than the Obama people did,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), a co-chairman of the centrist Tuesday Group.

Trump’s legislative affairs team — which includes former top Hill aides Rick Dearborn, Marc Short and Paul Teller — has also begun reaching out to individual members and caucuses. They’re in the process of setting up meetings with groups, including the far-right House Freedom Caucus, conservative Republican Study Committee and Tuesday Group. 

“We’ve already been in discussions about having that meeting to understand where they are going,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who campaigned with Trump last year, told The Hill.

Still, GOP fissures are forming that could complicate or delay several top Trump priorities. Freedom Caucus leaders are aggressively calling for the repeal and wholesale replacement of ObamaCare, while GOP chairmen have argued a more measured “repair” of the healthcare law is the right approach.

Meanwhile, top congressional Republicans have begun griping about the price tag of the wall Trump has pledged to build on the U.S.-Mexico border, estimated to cost between $12 billion to $15 billion. Many in his party are skeptical of Trump’s plan to have U.S. taxpayers foot the bill first, and then have Mexico reimburse the U.S. later.

By spring, the White House is expected to send Congress a request for a supplemental funding bill to pay for the wall, but the details still are being worked out. Lawmakers are hoping to get more clarity from Trump on Feb. 28, when he addresses a joint session of Congress.

One thing Trump — a billionaire business magnate, “Art of the Deal” author and reality-TV star — has going for him is he knows how to attract crowds. His often-unpredictable campaign events drew tens of thousands of people and cable-news viewers, giving him a potent platform. 

Trump could hop in Air Force One and stage campaign-style rallies in the backyards of red-state Democrats up for reelection in 2018, like Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOn The Money: Cain 'very committed' to Fed bid despite opposition | Pelosi warns no US-UK trade deal if Brexit harms Irish peace | Ivanka Trump says she turned down World Bank job Cain says he won't back down, wants to be nominated to Fed Pro-life Christians are demanding pollution protections MORE (W.Va.), Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampPro-trade groups enlist another ex-Dem lawmaker to push for Trump's NAFTA replacement Pro-trade group targets 4 lawmakers in push for new NAFTA Biden office highlights support from women after second accuser comes forward MORE (N.D.), Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) Tester20 Dems demand no more money for ICE agents, Trump wall Overnight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick's lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US Bipartisan senators want 'highest possible' funding for carbon capture technology MORE (Mont.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellySome in GOP fear Buttigieg run for governor Paul Ryan joins University of Notre Dame faculty GOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care MORE (Ind.). That way, he could pressure those Democrats to confirm his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, and pass his agenda. 

“That’s one of the things he can do to overcome the Senate filibuster. I think Trump can do more good there with his Twitter and his airplane,” conservative Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said in an interview. “Ronald Reagan did that over television very effectively, and Trump is at least that effective.

“He can drop into Billings and Helena and you’ve got Montana covered. They are free thinking people out there.”

Dent, however, warned that Trump should not get “too punitive” with lawmakers, whether they are Democrats or Republicans. Because the political outsider is not very ideological, he will be able to build different coalitions, depending on the issue. 

“Yesterday’s adversary is tomorrow’s ally and vice versa, depending on what the issue is,” Dent said. “The coalition could change from vote to vote and week to week.

“It would not be productive to be overly punitive.”