The Morning Jolt

White House

Reviewing Trump’s Achievements before Democrats Control the House

President Donald Trump prior to his address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 25, 2018 (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: the disquieting possibility that the active part of Donald Trump’s presidency is coming to an end; the revelation that the Women’s March had an infamous hidden ally all along; Paul Krugman admits what he really thinks; and some podcast cheer, just in time for the holidays.

Is the Active Part of the Trump Presidency Ending?

Congressional Democrats may offer the White House $1.3 billion in funding for the border wall in year-end negotiations — a small fraction of the $5 billion President Trump wanted.

Soon, the Democrats will control the House of Representatives. The odds of Congress sending any major pieces of legislation to Trump’s desk will shrink even more.

Trump is not the first president to see his party lose control of a chamber of Congress during his presidency; it happened to Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan too. But it’s also worth remembering that none of those presidents saw their party recapture that lost chamber during their presidencies.

Trump did not begin with much patience for the legislative grind of Congress, and what little he had disappeared after the attempt to repeal Obamacare and the passage of tax cuts.

This White House had great difficulties stewarding legislation through Congress on its best days. During the first effort to get the House to pass legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare, Steve Bannon attempted to bully the House Freedom Caucus, telling them, “This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.” The House members, neither intimidated nor impressed, refused. The Senate rejected the second attempt at repeal and replace — perhaps the most frustrating moment for conservatives in Trump’s presidency so far — on July 28, 2017. The day before, when Obamacare-repeal proponents in the Senate needed the White House to be reinforcing their arguments in favor of the bill as much as possible, the news cycle was eaten up by Anthony Scaramucci furiously ranting to the New Yorker about Bannon’s anatomy.

“Amateur hour” is not an accurate description of this mess, because amateurs try.

Every few weeks, Trump tweets about something Congress must do, but Congress rarely does it.

April 4 of this year: “Our Border Laws are very weak while those of Mexico & Canada are very strong. Congress must change these Obama era, and other, laws NOW!” April 17: “House and Senate must quickly pass a legislative fix to ensure violent criminal aliens can be removed from our society. Keep America Safe!” May 4: “Our Southern Border is under siege. Congress must act now to change our weak and ineffective immigration laws. Must build a Wall.” July 5: “Congress must pass smart, fast and reasonable Immigration Laws now.” July 11: “Democrats in Congress must no longer Obstruct – vote to fix our terrible Immigration Laws now.” July 29: “Congress must act on fixing the DUMBEST & WORST immigration laws anywhere in the world!”

Trump got a lot of likes and retweets on those, but Congress did not pass a serious immigration reform. In late June, an immigration bill that Trump supported went down in the House, with just 121 votes in favor, 301 votes against. Stalemate continues. The administration can control how it enforces the laws on the books, but it can’t change the laws that are on those books, nor how judges will rule on how those laws must be interpreted.

There are some issues on which the White House has pushed hard for legislation, such as prison anti-recidivism programs and criminal-justice reform in the First Step Act. Every policy wonk and activist I’ve talked to about this issue says that Jared Kushner has pushed this through, worked out compromises, and handled everything quite deftly. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he can’t guarantee the bill will get debated and passed by the time the chamber adjourns for the year — the Senate still has to pass a spending bill, a farm bill, renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, and disaster-relief funding. If the First Step Act doesn’t get passed, the bill would have to be reintroduced, and Democrats who control the House might want to go further — wrecking the current bipartisan consensus.

Trump tweeted about the First Step legislation once, but it’s not as if he’s barnstorming the country, making a detailed case for what the bill does and why it would help the country. Trump never really figured out how to persuade a reluctant legislator.

As for that spending bill and wall funding, Democratic congressional leaders don’t trust Trump to hold up his end of the bargain, so they say they’re not willing to make many concessions.

The agenda of the Trump administration in the next two years will look much like his Twitter feed lately: a lot of angry denunciations of a “WITCH HUNT” and “NO COLLUSION”; more declarations that the news media is “the ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE”; more mocking and sneering at figures such as James Comey, “Da Nang Dick Blumenthal,” Rex Tillerson, and so on, with the president occasionally enjoying himself with presidential duties such as the Army-Navy game.

Of course, the GOP still controls the Senate, and President Trump can still nominate judges to the 142 current judicial vacancies. (Right now, 70 nominees are pending.) If Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Steven Breyer step down or otherwise depart the court in the next two years, Trump could rank as the favorite president of many conservatives a generation from now.

The brief era of GOP control in Washington passes with some major accomplishments — sweeping tax cuts; the repeal of the individual mandate from Obamacare; drilling in ANWR; new sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia; the Right to Try Act for experimental medication; reforms of the Department of Veterans Affairs; laws designed to make it easier to fire federal workers; expansion of job-training and technical-education programs; a sweeping change to copyright law; reducing the impact of Dodd-Frank on banks; and repeal of at least 15 last-minute regulations enacted under the Obama administration.

But they leave a lot of work unfinished. Back in January, our Ramesh Ponnuru outlined a bolder and more expansive election-year agenda: relaxing Obamacare regulations, make the middle-class tax cuts permanent, welfare reform, and sweeping changes to how students finance college education. Change is unlikely to come in any of those areas until there is one-party control in Washington again.

Obama learned the hard way over the past two years that policy changes enacted through regulations and executive orders can be easily undone by a future president: the Iran deal, the Paris accords, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Clean Power Plan, various EPA rules, “temporary protected status” for groups of refugees in the United States. But a future Democratic president could undo Trump’s changes as easily as Trump undid Obama’s.

The Women’s March, Brought to You by the Nation of Islam

Did you expect that the Women’s March would have its security handled by . . . the Nation of Islam? From a piece in Tablet yesterday:

It was around this time that [activist Mercy] Morganfield says she first heard that Nation of Islam members were acting as security detail and drivers for the co-chairs. “Bob called me secretly and said, ‘Mercy, they have been in bed with the Nation of Islam since day one: They do all of our security,’” Morganfield told Tablet.

Two other sources, with direct knowledge of the time, also claimed that security and the drivers for the co-chairs were members of the Nation of Islam. And this was certainly the case in the women’s previous organization. A May 2015 photograph on Sarsour’s Facebook page shows a group of men wearing suits and bow ties in the signature Nation of Islam style. Her caption above the photo reads: “FOI Brothers, security for the movement,” using the acronym for Fruit of Islam.

Disgusted not only with the co-chairs’ connection to Farrakhan but the way they were all handling what she saw as the legitimate public outrage over it, Morganfield, too, asked privately for their resignations.

“I talked to everyone, and I said it to every last one of them: Tamika [Mallory] needs to resign—not just because of her Farrakhan connection, but because of how she handled it afterwards. I said Linda [Sarsour] also needs to step down. Her controversy and the things she keeps saying and doing are detrimental to the movement.” When Tablet asked Morganfield whether she believes the co-chairs are anti-Semitic, she offered a terse answer: “There are no Jewish women on the board. They refused to put any on. Most of the Jewish people resigned and left. They refused to even put anti-Semitism in the unity principles.”

The article ends with a stinging indictment from Morganfield: “The reason I joined the Women’s March is because I believe women could truly be the most powerful voting bloc this country has ever seen . . . The problem with the Women’s March is that in order to stay in the news, they had to be like ambulance chasers: They chased every issue that could get them media coverage. That’s not strategy; that’s tactics.”

At Least He’s Honest about What He Believes

Paul Krugman on Twitter yesterday: “There’s a new axis of evil: Russia, Saudi Arabia — and the United States.”

Usually you need his New York Times op-ed page colleague, Thomas Friedman, to speak to his cab driver to get such deep and nuanced insight.

As Jeanne Kirkpatrick said, “They always blame America first.”

ADDENDUM: Mickey and I found time to record a Christmas-themed podcast, tackling Christmas carols great and awful; Hallmark’s seductively saccharine Christmas movies; how her recent sojourn to Canada did not meet her expectations; remembering that we were laughing about “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” four years ago; and predicting a future ban on mistletoe.

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