President Donald Trump has now been in office for one month and the media and political firestorm around him shows no signs of letting up any time soon, as Mr. Trump tries to push ahead with his agenda, but continues to find obstacles among Democrats, the bureaucracy, the courts and the press.
Let's take a quick tour of what we have seen in the last month:
1. Trump is Trump. Why are people surprised? To me, the start of the Trump Administration is playing out pretty much as I would have expected. President Trump is - not surprisingly - a lot like Candidate Trump. At times he is all over the place, without much in the way of message discipline. He attacks the news media. He is aggravated by questions about Russia and Vladimir Putin. He keeps bringing up Hillary Clinton. He keeps talking about the size of his Electoral College win. He is on Twitter often, on all sorts of subjects. His news conference last week was a perfect example - his supporters were over the moon, while many in D.C. were horrified. Was it really that much of a surprise?
2. Trump sticking to his campaign themes. Remember, Donald Trump basically ran against both the Democratic and Republican parties in 2016. "I’m keeping my promises to the American people," Trump said last week. "I’m here following through on what I pledged to do." Trump said he would get tough on illegal immigration - take him at his word. He said he would pull out the TPP trade deal, and he did. He vowed to hold down on regulations, and he's taken some actions along those lines. "I keep my campaign promises, and our citizens will be very happy when they see the result," Trump said. So far, he's doing what he said he would. And many of his supporters are pleased as punch.
3. But Trump slowed by internal miscues on travel ban. One of my favorite statistics in all of sports is the "unforced error" in tennis, because it's very much applicable to politics. Maybe a perfect example of it was the ongoing struggle over Mr. Trump's effort to slow refugee admissions into the United States, and to try to shut off most arrivals from seven different majority-Muslim nations. It's become obvious that the Executive Order signed by the President was not airtight - it included green card holders at first - as the courts stopped the Trump plan, and GOP lawmakers repeatedly grumbled about it being rushed out by the White House. Trump signed that order on January 27. It's now February 20, the order is still on hold, and we await a new plan. That is not the timeline of something that had a "smooth rollout" as the President said last week.
4. No swift action in Congress on Obamacare and taxes. Despite a lot of early talk about fast votes in the House and Senate on repeal of the Obama health law and major tax policy changes, none of that has surfaced as yet, as Republicans are working slowly behind the scenes to assemble their plans on taxes and health care. But many voters don't want to hear why they have to wait for action on such campaign goals, and it's likely to put some wear and tear on Republicans in Congress in the months ahead. Maybe the best example is health care - Republicans have been talking about repeal of Obamacare for six years, but they still don't have a final replacement plan ready for a vote. President Trump is sure to use his speech to a Joint Session of Congress on February 28 to lay out what he wants done.
5. Does Trump need an early victory in the Congress? Eight years ago at this time, President Obama had already signed his nearly $800 billion economic stimulus plan into law. But Republicans have not really provided Trump with any legislative victory on that level. Yes, the GOP has voted to repeal a couple of Obama Administration regulations - which was certainly a solid campaign talking point for the GOP - but that's not exactly super-duty-heavy-legislative lifting. With the GOP in charge, it seems like they need to chalk up a win for Trump. And maybe soon.
6. Democrats slow walk the Trump Cabinet. Using the rules of the Senate, Democrats have made sure that President Trump has had to wait for confirmation of his choices for various top jobs in his administration. Some of the delay is on Mr. Trump himself, as different nominees have had to deal with questions about their backgrounds and delayed work on ethics agreements. But Democrats have also taken their opposition to a new level, forcing extended debate and extra procedural votes in a bid to slow down nominations that they oppose. The combination of Democratic opposition and some internal vetting delays has left holes in a number of important federal departments.
7. The Never Trump ranks seem to get smaller. Since the election, more and more Republicans have slowly gotten on board the Trump Train, even if they still have misgivings about the President himself. "The complete capitulation of the never-Trump right," a friend of mine described it (he was someone who didn't vote for either Trump or Clinton). But the Trump people have still exacted some revenge at times, for example, getting rid of some new administration hires who had once criticized Trump. Even with some of those running battles, it's obvious that those who rejected Trump have found themselves applauding him at times in this first month.
8. Congressional GOP still not sure what to make of Trump. Yes, GOP lawmakers are excited about the chance to push change through Congress with a Republican in the White House, but it isn't hard to figure out in the halls of the Capitol that Republicans aren't used to this dynamic. "I think we’re all struggling with it," said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) at a recent town hall meeting. For many Republicans, they're still not convinced Trump is a real conservative, like the other day when he seemed to express his support for the Export-Import Bank in a meeting with GOP lawmakers. "Everything is more successful if he is pushing it," said Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND).
9. Judge Gorsuch nomination is a big conservative hit. There is one thing that GOP lawmakers in Congress will talk about a lot these days, and that is President Trump's nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch for the U.S. Supreme Court. You would have to dig deep to find one peep of concern uttered by a Republican in the House or Senate about Gorsuch's nomination, which has calmed the waters among some conservative groups that were not exactly sold on Donald Trump as President. Getting Gorsuch through the Senate is another matter, but for now, his nomination has been a huge home run with Republicans.
10. Trump nibbling around the edges on the bureaucracy. While the President's actions on reducing regulations and some of his Cabinet choices have won strong support from Republicans, Mr. Trump has yet to push ahead with any dramatic bureaucratic changes in the federal government. From the start, it's been obvious that there are a lot of federal workers who want no part of Mr. Trump in the White House - will he move to boot huge numbers of them out of a job? Will there be wholesale agencies that get chopped out of the budget? This first month, Trump hasn't done much, even as some in the bureaucracy have organized to oppose him.
11. Saying "Fake News" does not get bills through Congress. I don't expect President Trump to slow his attacks on the news media anytime soon, but I would observe that complaining about media bias and the press doesn't really do much to push your agenda - though it probably makes your supporters very happy when you label the press the "enemy of the American People." The fight over the nitty gritty details of legislative text tend to take on a different tone than other political battles. I remember being on the House floor in June of 1981 for one of the first big legislative wins by President Reagan - getting something like that done takes a lot more than lobbing verbal grenades at the media.
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