Trump’s Agenda Quickly Collides With Reality on the Hill

From repealing Obamacare to building a border wall funded by Mexico, the president-elect’s campaign priorities have hit some early turbulence.

Health care is one of many issues on which Donald Trump's campaign promises have hit early snags.
AP Photo/Jason Redmond
Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
Jan. 9, 2017, 8:01 p.m.

Re­pub­lic­ans who fully con­trol Wash­ing­ton for the first time in a dec­ade are fa­cing a rocky path in their quest to undo Pres­id­ent Obama’s policies and en­act Don­ald Trump’s.

Nearly every item on the list of pri­or­it­ies and pledges that Pres­id­ent-elect Trump and the GOP Con­gress cam­paigned on has en­countered early tur­bu­lence or un­cer­tainty—from rolling back Obama­care and fed­er­al reg­u­la­tions to build­ing a bor­der wall, fund­ing in­fra­struc­ture, and with­draw­ing from the in­ter­na­tion­al cli­mate pact.

The biggest ex­ample is Obama­care, as Re­pub­lic­ans face in­tern­al fric­tion over wheth­er a re­place­ment plan should be offered to go with bills that could pass with­in weeks to un­ravel the Af­ford­able Care Act, which has brought cov­er­age to 20 mil­lion people.

But re­cent days have re­vealed oth­er fault lines and signs that Trump will face hurdles in de­liv­er­ing on some of his prom­ises.

Take his fre­quent cam­paign pledge that Mex­ico would pay for a massive wall along the bor­der.

Trump told The New York Times that he’s now plan­ning to build first and some­how en­sure the U.S. is re­im­bursed by Mex­ico later, likely through his vow to rene­go­ti­ate the North Amer­ic­an Free Trade Agree­ment. But it’s un­clear wheth­er Trump could ever force such pay­ments.

Rolling back reg­u­la­tions is an­oth­er area where the GOP’s ap­pet­ite for change is lar­ger than what’s ac­tu­ally on the menu.

Last week, the House passed a GOP bill that would give Con­gress sweep­ing powers to nul­li­fy reg­u­la­tions is­sued very late in a pres­id­ent’s term.

But the bill stands al­most no chance in the Sen­ate, which means law­makers and Trump will be able to quickly nix only a re­l­at­ively small num­ber of Obama’s late-pres­id­ency rules us­ing a mid-1990s law called the Con­gres­sion­al Re­view Act. That means law­makers face tough choices about which reg­u­la­tions to tar­get for quick re­peal.

Trump, to be sure, has oth­er tools to undo vari­ous reg­u­la­tions, such as de­cid­ing not to de­fend them in court, or wa­ging lengthy ad­min­is­trat­ive re­peals, while he can quickly stop un­fin­ished rules in their tracks.

Trump’s plans for a sweep­ing in­fra­struc­ture pack­age, mean­while, are not on the near-term le­gis­lat­ive agenda, as Hill Re­pub­lic­ans are wary of spend­ing the kind of money the pres­id­ent-elect and his ad­visers have touted.

But Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Whip John Cornyn told re­port­ers Monday in the Cap­it­ol that poli­cy­mak­ing takes time.

“I know we all like im­me­di­ate grat­i­fic­a­tion. I cer­tainly do. But it is not al­ways pos­sible, and this is go­ing to take some time,” Cornyn said when asked if voters who backed Re­pub­lic­ans will grow dis­sat­is­fied at the pace of change in Wash­ing­ton.

Cornyn said Re­pub­lic­ans are “ab­so­lutely com­mit­ted” to bor­der se­cur­ity, “be­liev­ing that that is the res­ult that people were vot­ing for when they voted for Mr. Trump.” He ad­ded that there are “a lot more pieces of that puzzle,” such as so-called e-veri­fic­a­tion and the refugee vet­ting pro­cess.

Asked if he feared voter con­cern about the im­ple­ment­a­tion of the GOP agenda, Cornyn replied: “I don’t think so. I think they are go­ing to see some im­me­di­ate re­lief, par­tic­u­larly on the reg­u­lat­ory front, start­ing Janu­ary the 20th. I think there is go­ing to be a lot of activ­ity and they will see a lot of mo­mentum.”

The GOP’s work-in-pro­gress ef­fort to kill the health care law rep­res­ents the most vi­ol­ent polit­ic­al col­li­sion between long-stand­ing Re­pub­lic­an goals and the hard polit­ics of achiev­ing them.

The Sen­ate will vote on a budget doc­u­ment this week that paves the way for re­peal­ing large por­tions of the law in the com­ing weeks with sub­sequent bills that are im­mune from Sen­ate fili­busters.

But Re­pub­lic­ans face in­tern­al dis­sen­sion, as some of their mem­bers ex­press con­cern about the ab­sence—for now—of a plan to re­place it with a GOP al­tern­at­ive. (Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell told CBS on Sunday that a re­place­ment would oc­cur “rap­idly” after re­peal, but offered no time frame.)

Sev­er­al high-pro­file Re­pub­lic­ans, in­clud­ing Sens. Rand Paul, Bob Cork­er, and Tom Cot­ton, say that law­makers should be present­ing their re­place­ment plan es­sen­tially along­side the re­peal of the law.

Paul told The Wall Street Journ­al on Monday that he spoke with Trump on Fri­day and that the pres­id­ent-elect “agrees com­pletely” with the Ken­tucky sen­at­or’s view that Obama­care re­peal and re­place­ment should hap­pen at the same time.

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans may speed up their ef­fort to re­place some pieces of Obama­care. Cornyn told re­port­ers that the re­peal meas­ures that the Fin­ance and Health Com­mit­tees will craft in the com­ing weeks might also con­tain some of the “re­place” side of the equa­tion.

“We are ac­tu­ally look­ing to try to find some way to do that,” Cornyn said. “We are look­ing to do as much as we can do in the bill, but I am not pre­pared right now to give you an in­vent­ory of those is­sues, but we are try­ing to do as much as we can.”

The slow gears of Wash­ing­ton and Trump’s evolving po­s­i­tions could force Re­pub­lic­ans in­to de­cisions that dis­ap­point some of their most hard-core sup­port­ers.

Con­sider Trump’s plan to aban­don the United Na­tions Par­is cli­mate-change pact—the type of pledge that res­on­ates with a hard-right fac­tion that dis­putes the sci­entif­ic con­sensus on hu­man-caused glob­al warm­ing and has no love for the U.N. either.

Trump has waffled on that plan.

Cork­er, the Sen­ate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee chair­man, said there’s not a clear ra­tionale for try­ing to quickly take steps to­ward jet­tis­on­ing the Par­is deal, not­ing that it does not cre­ate bind­ing emis­sions man­dates on na­tions any­way.

“When you are com­ing in­to of­fice and you have got crises that are go­ing to come up that you are totally un­aware of at present, it is best to come in­to of­fice and get your feet on the ground and then fig­ure out which battles to pick. Again, the Par­is ac­cord has zero ef­fect on the United States. We are not bound to do any­thing,” Cork­er said in the Cap­it­ol on Fri­day.

He pre­dicted that the new ad­min­is­tra­tion would not try to bail on the Par­is deal on “Day One,” not­ing that it could in­stead just neg­lect it.

“The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion could con­tin­ue to be ‘a party to it’ and just not in­vest dol­lars to­wards that end. The real is­sue is not stat­ing wheth­er you are in the ac­cord or not,” he said.

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