Republicans who were concerned by the tumultuous start of President Trump’s reign are feeling more optimistic in the wake of his first address to Congress.
GOP lawmakers said the president on Tuesday night provided needed direction that they say had been lacking at the very start of his term, when his escalating battle with the media and the confusing rollout of a travel ban overshadowed his healthcare, tax reform and trade agenda.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money — Democrats rush to finish off infrastructure Biden employs flurry of meetings to unite warring factions GOP senators say Biden COVID-19 strategy has 'exacerbated vaccine hesitancy' MORE (R-Ky.), who had complained about Trump’s tweeting habit and had distanced himself from Trump on several issues including his praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, proclaimed that he “became presidential” Tuesday.
Stock markets rallied on the strong performance Wednesday as the Dow Jones industrial average closed above 21,000 for the first time in history.
After Trump laid out his goals for healthcare reform Tuesday evening, GOP members said they have enough direction to move forward with the next step of a plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
“I really think he’s done about all he needs to do right now,” said Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism MORE (R-Tenn.), who has played a prominent role in this year’s healthcare debate.
Alexander said Trump filled in missing pieces of the policy puzzle this week by calling on Congress to provide tax credits to help people buy health insurance after ObamaCare is repealed and to give governors more resources and flexibility to keep new enrollees in Medicaid from losing coverage.
Republican legislators say they now have what they need to settle the outstanding, intraparty differences on ObamaCare
Alexander has organized morning meetings with state insurance commissioners, healthcare experts and industry leaders, and a group of Senate Republicans met with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin BradyKevin Patrick BradyHouse panel advances key portion of Democrats' .5T bill LIVE COVERAGE: Ways and Means to conclude work on .5T package LIVE COVERAGE: Tax hikes take center stage in Ways and Means markup MORE (R-Texas) Wednesday afternoon to learn more about the House GOP plan.
“These are good discussions,” said Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonLiberal group launches campaign urging Republicans to support Biden's agenda Domestic extremists return to the Capitol GOP senator: Buying Treasury bonds 'foolish' amid standoff over debt ceiling, taxes MORE (R-Wis.). “You got the president laying out some goals. It all starts bringing more and more clarity. Now we’re starting to home in, zero in on problem areas.”
It appeared before the speech that Republican leaders would have trouble reconciling conservatives in both chambers who oppose creating new subsidies for people to buy health insurance with GOP lawmakers who don’t want to strip coverage from an estimated 20 million people who gained health insurance under ObamaCare.
There’s a growing sense that Trump will step in to whip holdout lawmakers into supporting the final bill.
“He’s got the bully pulpit. He’s got his social media. He’s got a large populist message and following, which is the American people who elected him, that he certainly can use. And I believe that he will,” said Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), who is close to the House GOP leadership.
The president reassured Republicans who are divided over a House GOP proposal to slash tax rates and pay for it by placing a 20 percent across-the-board tax on imports by telling lawmakers that his economic team is working on “historic tax reform.”
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden meets with lawmakers amid domestic agenda panic The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles Graham tries to help Trump and McConnell bury the hatchet MORE (R-S.C.), a former rival of Trump’s on the 2016 campaign trail, recently said the tax plan touted by 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.) wouldn’t get 10 votes in the Senate, and another Senate Republican who requested anonymity said it “doesn’t have a chance in hell of passing.”
Ryan hasn’t given up on the proposed border-adjustment tax, which he argues is needed to keep the tax reform package from adding to the deficit.
Trump appeared to side with Ryan by promising his team would unveil a plan that would cut corporate tax rates, provide “massive tax relief for the middle class” and create a level playing field for American companies. His talk of a level playing field signaled likely support for taxing imports, which would make U.S.-manufactured products more competitive domestically.
The president gave new life to immigration reform, an issue that wasn’t even on the congressional radar. That changed when Trump encouraged a small group of centrist Democrats at the White House last month to keep working on immigration legislation.
On Tuesday, he said “real and positive immigration reform is possible,” catching lawmakers by surprise and giving the issue new momentum.
Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE (R-Ariz.), a member of the bipartisan Gang of Eight that drafted the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, told reporters Wednesday he’s ready to go all-in on another legislative push.
He said voters “understand you have to deal with the illegal population in a more realistic manner than just saying we’re going to deport them all.”
Lawmakers say they believe Trump’s call for immigration reform is sincere and argue that he has a much better chance of convincing House Republicans — who blocked the Senate bill in 2013 — to vote for it because he has aggressively prosecuted undocumented immigrants and made a strong commitment to border security.
However, the Gang of Eight measure also had a lot of border security provisions, and Trump would face a backlash from his base if he embraced legislation that he shunned throughout 2015 and 2016.
The Trump address put the Capitol’s focus back on policy after several distracting weeks during which leaks about alleged contacts between senior Trump advisers and Russian intelligence officials dominated the discussion. It gave lawmakers and reporters a litany of policy points to chew on instead of his latest tweets.
That was illustrated during the joint Senate-House Republican retreat in Philadelphia in January when a presidential tweet, which came without warning, called for a major investigation into voter fraud.
The president’s social media habits threatened to overshadow talk of the agenda, which was the purpose of the retreat. Since then, he has used Twitter to lash out at fellow Republicans such as Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCollins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Meghan McCain: Country has not 'healed' from Trump under Biden Biden steps onto global stage with high-stakes UN speech MORE (R-Ariz.) for criticizing his administration and to bash the media as “the enemy of the American people.”
The address to Congress was called “a home run” by Ryan, praised by pundits and put Democrats on the defensive.
Nevertheless, some Republicans say they still want more details on thorny questions related to taxes and spending.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said he was disappointed that Trump did not call for a balanced budget amendment, and Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) said he wanted more detail on how the administration would fund its long list of priorities.
“It was a speech that was long on themes, and probably short on details,” said Sanford, the former South Carolina governor who’s emerged as one of the loudest Trump critics in the GOP.
“There was not one mention of debt, deficit and government spending,” he added. “There was a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan but not one mention of how we pay for these things.”
Senior administration officials, however, said the goal of the address was to lay out a broad vision for the country, not specific policy details.
“He only had an hour ... and he covered a dozen important topics. It’s clear he’s sticking to his campaign promises,” new Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told The Hill. “What more do you need from him?”