Can 'A Better Deal' Save the Democrats?
Democrats have a new agenda – can it save them?Losing a national election to a reality television actor has, quite rightfully, triggered months of soul-searching for the Democratic Party. On Monday, with the first six months of the Trump presidential circus officially in the books, Democrats are rolling out the beginning of what they hope is an agenda that will prove to be more successful in garnering votes come the 2018 midterms and beyond.
© Nicholas Kamm, AFP/Getty Images President Trump meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on June 6, 2017.
WASHINGTON — With senators having wrapped up business for the month and joining the House on recess, they're leaving behind a highly unproductive first half of the year. The Trump agenda has barely moved, despite the GOP enjoying a majority in both chambers of Congress and a Republican in the White House.
Republicans set out an ambitious agenda after President Trump’s surprising win in November. Lawmakers vowed to repeal Obamacare, reform the tax code, build up the nation's crumbling infrastructure and help Trump build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. GOP leaders also promised to crack down on illegal immigration and roll back the banking regulations in the Dodd-Frank Act.
Republicans Worry That White House Disarray Is Undermining Trump
A recent sequence of disappointments and blunders has rattled the president’s volatile governing coalition and threatens the G.O.P.’s policy agenda.President Trump and Republicans in Washington have shaken the confidence of their supporters after a punishing and self-inflicted series of setbacks that have angered activists, left allies slack-jawed and reopened old fissures on the right.
While the House has passed a few of those measures, none of the agenda items have passed the Senate. Instead, the single biggest piece of legislation passed out of both the House and Senate and signed into law by Trump — though begrudgingly — is a bipartisan bill that would increase sanctions on Russia and puts safeguards in place to keep the president from loosening them.
“We’re getting nothing done. All we’ve really done this year is confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on the floor late last month after a dramatic return to Washington following a brain cancer diagnosis. The conservative Gorsuch was only put on the court after Republicans changed Senate rules to allow Supreme Court nominees to be confirmed by a simple majority, rather than the usual 60-vote threshold.
How secret donations help President Trump's agenda
Groups spending millions in anonymous donations are leading the outside efforts to either defend President Trump or sell his agenda with voters and Congress, despite the president’s repeated calls to “drain the swamp” in Washington of special-interest money.WASHINGTON — Groups spending millions in anonymous donations are leading the outside efforts to either defend President Trump or sell his agenda with voters and Congress, despite the president’s repeated calls to “drain the swamp” in Washington of special-interest money.
“Democrats made it their goal in life to obstruct everything that we tried to do and that the administration tried to do. I think that’s probably the single major reason,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas told reporters last week when asked why more wasn’t accomplished in the first half of the year.
At various points within the year, Democrats did slow-walk Senate business, particularly on some of Trump’s nominees and GOP efforts to repeal Obamacare. However, in the most high-profile legislative fail, Republicans proved to be their own worst enemy.
After the stunning defeat to Republican-led efforts to repeal Obamacare at the end of July, the president blamed “3 Republicans and 48 Democrats” for letting “the American people down.” No Democrats supported the GOP’s attempts to roll back the law, but that wasn’t why the bill failed.
In their party-line effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the GOP — which has a narrow 52-48 majority — used a special Senate procedure that would allow it to pass with just 51 votes. If Vice President Pence cast the tie-breaking vote, that number of senators could drop to 50.
Can this marriage be saved? Relationship between Trump, Senate GOP hits new skids.
Some senators are openly defying his directives, bringing long-simmering tensions to a boil.Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), head of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, announced Tuesday that he would work with his Democratic colleagues to “stabilize and strengthen” the individual insurance market under the Affordable Care Act, which the president has badgered the Senate to keeping trying to repeal. Alexander also urged the White House to keep up payments to insurers that help low-income consumers afford plans, which Trump has threatened to cut off.
But even that proved impossible. GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and McCain joined Democrats in voting against the measure.
“It’s pretty obvious that our problem on health care was not the Democrats; we didn’t have 50 Republicans,” McConnell told reporters last week.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told reporters that GOP senators might have been able to accomplish more if they had taken up their legislative priorities in a different order.
“In hindsight, truthfully, we started on the right issue, which was regulatory reform. The next thing we should’ve taken up is tax reform, but we took up Obamacare," Johnson said just before the Senate broke for recess last week.
The conservative senator said he was not satisfied with what the Senate had accomplished this year. He did point to a series of reversals of Obama-era regulations Congress had pushed through as successes that had not gotten enough attention.
Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, a member of GOP leadership, told reporters that the Senate had been productive and it just was a slower timeline.
GOP insurgents claim Trump mantle, spell trouble for party
Republicans face a problem as they try to defend a slim majority in the Senate and win races elsewhere: Insurgent primary candidates are trying to lay claim to President Donald Trump's mantle, and knock out the establishment's choices. The latest case is in Nevada, where endangered GOP incumbent Sen. Dean Heller drew a challenge Tuesday from businessman and repeat failed candidate Danny Tarkanian, who announced his bid in an early morning Fox News Channel appearance seemingly aimed at an audience of one: the president himself.
“We got a lot of things done,” Hatch said. “Like massaging almost all of these problems that we have and getting them in a position where we may be able to work on them. I mean it’s a lot of work to do, legislation. One bill alone can take the whole year and right now it is.”
The House, which has a larger GOP majority, 240-194, has cranked out a series of bills that go along with the Trump agenda, including a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare and the rollback of Dodd-Frank regulations, which aimed to prevent Wall Street from sparking another recession but has been criticized by conservatives as a government takeover of the financial services industry. Both of those efforts fell flat when they reached the Senate.
“We’re pretty frustrated with the slow pace of things (in the Senate), but in the House, we’ve actually done most of our agenda except for welfare reform and tax reform,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told the Wisconsin State Journal in a Thursday interview. “There’s just been a lot of distractions out there, whether it’s Russia, or tweeting, or whatever.”
More: House passes bill to dismantle Dodd-Frank
More: Trump-backed immigration bills approved by House
In late July, the House passed a security-themed spending bill that included $1.6 billion to begin construction of a wall along about 70 miles of the 2,000-mile Southwest border. However, Democrats have already warned that they will oppose the funding in the Senate, where Republicans need Democratic support to pass spending bills.
Republicans desperately want to be united. Trump just won't let them
Republicans once hoped that if the GOP controlled Washington, a shared focus on legislative goals _ and the power of the White House political office _ could defuse the intense factionalism that has fueled nasty primaries for the last seven years. Instead, as voters head to the polls to vote in Alabama's hotly contested primary on Tuesday and other GOP primary races take shape across the country, it's apparent that party divisions in the Trump era are only widening.
“They have to figure out what they can do, we’ve shown what we can do,” Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., told reporters after the health care bill failed in the Senate. “This is a problem the Senate has to solve for itself. We can, you know, wish them well, we can root for them, we can yell at them, but in the end we can’t do it for them.”
Senate rules mean that most pieces of legislation — except those attempted through budgetary procedures, like the Obamacare repeal — require 60 votes to pass. As Trump’s poll numbers continue to drop, Democrats, even those from states Trump won by double digits, are seeing fewer benefits to voting with the GOP and Trump.
Trump won West Virginia by 42 points, and Sen. Joe Manchin is close with the president and his Republican colleagues. But even the West Virginia Democrat — who is one of the most moderate lawmakers in the Senate — would not side with the president on health care.
“He asked me to support the health care initiative, and I said I want to work with you and work with everybody to fix and repair what we have in front of us,” Manchin said. “But voting to repeal it, I just didn’t think it was going to happen.”
Manchin told USA TODAY that the two haven’t talked since the last conversation, which was about six weeks ago. Before that, they were talking at least every two weeks, according to Manchin spokesman Jonathan Kott.
“I have not spoken to him recently. I hope he understands, I haven’t been able to,” Manchin said.
Other red state Democrats had previously said they could see themselves working with Trump on infrastructure. But what the Trump administration has proposed so far has fallen flat.
3 Republicans face off in Utah primary for vacant House seat
Three GOP candidates hoping to replace former Rep. Jason Chaffetz in Congress face off in a primary election Tuesday after weeks trying to burnish their conservative credentials and fend off attack ads from deep-pocketed outside groups. Chaffetz abruptly stepped down from his seat in June after making a name for himself as the Republican who relentlessly investigated Hillary Clinton and her emails while he was chairman of the House Oversight Committee.
Democrats had expected the government to create jobs by investing tax dollars in improving the nation's aging roads, bridges, dams and airports. But Trump's plan is to provide incentives to private companies to pitch in and help build the projects. Democrats fear private investors would try to make their money back by imposing new tolls and fees on Americans.
“I intend to work with President Trump and his administration on an infrastructure plan that benefits people in Michigan and across the country," Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said in June, before adding: "Rather than making a commitment to rebuilding America’s roads, bridges, and waterways, the administration’s proposals would put special interests in control of our roads and bridges and propose new tolls for Michigan drivers. These are not ideas I can support.”
Trump won Michigan by around 11,000 votes, but he was the first Republican presidential candidate to win the state since 1988.
Stabenow hasn't completely discounted Trump, though. She reached out to him July 20 to talk about ways to move forward on infrastructure but hasn't heard back, according to Stabenow spokeswoman Miranda Margowsky.
Republican leaders do see some hope on the horizon in the form of tax reform after the Senate's August recess.
Last week, McConnell told reporters that lawmakers would use the reconciliation process to take up tax reform — so it can pass with a simple majority — when the Senate returns in September. Tax legislation will go through a hearing process, which did not happen with health care.
"I think we all want to push ourselves to do more, that’s just the nature of what it is that we do. So I think to know that we’re going to be coming back and having a full plate in front of us is the nature of the business,” Murkowski told USA TODAY.
More: Senators unlikely to heed Trump's advice to kill the filibuster, experts say
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Contributing: Erin Kelly and Emma Kinery
Group that allegedly helped plan inauguration protests subpoenaed .
The U.S. Attorney's Office in D.C. has subpoenaed records from a web-hosting company which hosts a group that allegedly helped plan Trump inauguration protestsProtesters display anti-Trump slogans in Downtown Chicago on Jan. 20, 2017 a few hours after the inauguration ceremony for Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States.