"President Trump named John R. Bolton, a hard-line former American ambassador to the United Nations, as his third national security adviser on Thursday, continuing a shake-up that creates one of the most hawkish national security teams of any White House in recent history. Mr. Bolton will replace Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the battle-tested Army officer who was tapped last year to stabilize a turbulent foreign policy operation but who never developed a comfortable relationship with the president." Bolton was an outspoken advocate of military action during the George W. Bush administration, and has "called for action against Iran and North Korea."
For congressional Republicans in the new norm of the Trump presidency, nothing is easy, and everything is hard. Raising the debt ceiling in order to keep the government from defaulting on its debt is normally easy; now it is hard. Passing an omnibus budget bill to simply keep the government operating (forget the idea of passing the full battery of 12 appropriations bills) is going to be hard. Coming up with a health care bill in the Senate that could be passed by a simple majority through the budget-reconciliation process usually would be easy with a 52-48 vote edge and a vice president in place to break a tie. But this time, it will be hard. Spending money to fix our nation’s increasingly dilapidated infrastructure—that’s hard too. And then there are things that would be hard under any set of circumstances, such as tax reform. That’s even harder.
Part of the difficulty has nothing to do with President Trump. The Republican majorities in the House (55 percent to 45 percent) and Senate are relatively thin, and the House and Senate GOP conferences are anything but monolithic. Each has members that span the political spectrum, from those who are somewhat conservative and may need the votes of independents and maybe even a few Democrats to win reelection, all the way to members who are to the right of Genghis Khan and can easily win with no independent or Democratic votes—just as Democrats range from somewhat liberal all the way to the left of Karl Marx. With Trump in the White House, Democrats are taking a page from the Republican playbook under Barack Obama. On anything important or remotely controversial, their philosophy is “don’t give ‘em a inch,” not a single vote, making the Republicans do everything by themselves. This is a bit of an exaggeration, but not much of one.
But then there are the difficulties that come with having Trump as president. First is the matter of leadership—of the president providing direction in terms of vision and strategy, substance and politics, and how to get things done. Let’s just say that Trump is not giving Lyndon Johnson a run for his money in these departments. If Obama was criticized for “leading from behind,” Trump is scarcely leading at all. His lack of familiarity with both the substance of issues and how the process works, combined with his low approval ratings, makes him almost useless in a tough legislative fight.
Then there is the “got your back” quotient: That is, if a lawmaker gives Trump a vote on a tough issue, will the president then back up the member? It is arguable just how helpful Trump was in House passage, on the second attempt, of the American Health Care Act. From my vantage point, he made little difference, despite seeming to be supportive. After a highly publicized meeting with Reps. Fred Upton and Billy Long, he helped strike a compromise providing $8 billion in additional funds to create high-risk pools that go to patients with preexisting conditions. Ostensibly, that provided the last few votes needed for the 217-213 passage of the AHCA, effectively repealing and replacing Obamacare.
Immediately after the vote, House Republicans who voted for the measure were loaded into a caravan of busses on a trip to the White House for what seemed to be a cross between a Rose Garden bill signing and a pep rally, with Trump basking in the glow of a rare legislative victory. Fast forward to last week when, over lunch with a group of senators, Trump said the House bill was “mean” and didn’t go far enough in protecting people. In one gesture, Trump shoved those House Republicans in problematic districts under the busses they had rode to celebrate with him.
Right now, Trump is showing a 38 percent approval rating and 56 percent disapproval in the Gallup tracking poll. The HuffPost/Pollster average is at 40 percent approval, 55 percent disapproval; RealClearPolitics has it at 40 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove. At this point in their presidencies, Obama had an approval rating of 59 percent in the Gallup poll, George W. Bush recorded 55 percent, Bill Clinton was at a comparable 39 percent, George H.W. Bush was at 70 percent, and Ronald Reagan was at 59 percent. All but George W. Bush would go on to sustain tough losses in the House, the Senate, or both in the subsequent midterm elections.
History shows that there is little percentage in a House member or senator running away from an unpopular president of the same party. It disillusions their base but doesn’t assuage those who disagree and dislike the president. Over the years, members have found that simply staying in their own lane, trying to build their own record of accomplishments, is a better way to survive the political undertow of an election. It doesn’t always work, but a lawmaker doesn’t have much of a choice.
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"When a Russian news agency reached out to George Papadopoulos to request an interview shortly before the 2016 election," deputy communications director Bryan Lanza encouraged him to respond. "You should do it," Lanza wrote in a September 2016 email, "emphasizing the benefits of a U.S. 'partnership with Russia.'" The Trump campaign has "sought to paint the 30-year old energy consultant as a low level volunteer" in the campaign, but recently disclosed emails show that Papadopoulos had contact with "senior campaign figures" in the Trump campaign, "such as chief executive Stephen K. Bannon and adviser Michael Flynn," who encouraged him to "broker ties between Trump and top foreign officials."