November 13, 2016


Meet the Congress (Susan Milligan, Nov. 11, 2016, US News)

Adding to Trump's challenge is his lack of experience in politics and public policy. While Trump touted his business experience on the campaign trail, he is used to being a CEO, someone who makes the rules, delegates authority and fires people who aren't doing the job as he likes.

But a president can't fire Congress, choose its leaders or tell them what to do. Even an encroachment on an issue both branches care about can cause resentment. Then-first lady Hillary Clinton found that out in the early 1990s, when she led a health care reform panel and delivered a proposed plan to a skeptical (and Democratic-led) Congress.

"He may be used to giving orders and directives in his companies, but that isn't going to work with Congress, even Republicans," says former Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat. While the GOP kept control of the Senate, its advantage is small (52-48), and it's not so easy to keep an entire party caucus in line, notes Nelson, who served when the Senate was also very narrowly divided.

"It's not one of those situations where the president says, 'jump,' and they all in unison say, 'how high?'" Nelson says.

Trump also has displayed a lack of knowledge about how Washington works from a logistical and constitutional perspective. For example, in a session with GOP lawmakers during the campaign, Trump said, according to attendees, that he wanted to protect "Article XII" of the Constitution. There is no Article XII. He also said during the campaign that after the election, he would ask Congress to convene a special session to "immediately repeal and replace Obamacare." That would not be possible before Inauguration Day, since Barack Obama is still president. Congress will be in session anyway after Trump is sworn in, and would not need to have a "special session." And since Senate Democrats would likely filibuster any effort to undo the Affordable Care Act quickly, the GOP could only do it through a complicated process that involves adding it to a budget reconciliation bill, which cannot be filibustered. That process, however, is by definition not speedy, let alone "immediate."

"He's not clear on the separation of powers. His basic grasp of American political institutions is open to question," says Claremont College politics professor Jack Pitney, a former Republican House staffer. Nelson, the Democrat, agrees.

"I think he knows there are branches of government, but I don't think he understands how they are separate and equal," Nelson says. "That's going to be a lesson he needs to learn very quickly."

Congress has its internal conflicts as well, though those divisions may get papered over in the early months or years of the Trump administration. Centrist and establishment Democrats in the Senate, for example, are getting pressure from lawmakers such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Democrat, to mount a more progressive agenda. But the shared goal of thwarting Trump and congressional GOP initiatives will likely keep those disagreements at bay.

On the House side, Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, will have an emboldened group of Tea Party movement followers who will insist on a more conservative agenda, says GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak. While there had been some talk that the group of conservative lawmakers would try to oust Ryan from a leadership job he had to be dragged into taking anyway, after Speaker John Boehner left, Ryan's position is probably safe, Mackowiak says - and Trump is going to need the soft-spoken Wisconsinite to get things passed.

The problem, Mackowiak and others say, is that some items - such as infrastructure spending, which many conservatives reject as too pricey, or unraveling trade deals, which runs counter to the free-trade ideology of many Republicans - may not go over well in the GOP caucus.

One of the things that will keep him harmless is that, it's not just that he's ignorant, he's also easily bored, so there's pretty much no change of him seeing tough legislation through.

Posted by at November 13, 2016 5:50 PM