Change Agent Trump Still Faces Huge Obstacles in Draining the Washington Swamp
President is using his negotiating acumen, but Senate filibuster, House Democrat resistance will delay many reforms past 2018 midterms
President Donald Trump has disrupted politics as usual in Washington, D.C., but he still faces major hurdles in delivering fundamental change, according to members of a panel on Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
Major obstacles include the Senate filibuster, a possibly disastrous midterm election, and an opposition party that will try to impeach him should they retake Congress, panelists said at the annual “conservative Woodstock” held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Maryland, outside Washington, D.C.
But the president’s strategy, beyond his being an agent of change, has been to take up the mantle of President Ronald Reagan and other conservatives. It wasn’t a given, because Trump wasn’t always a conservative.
“I think the most important thing Trump did early on was embrace the conservative agenda,” said Fred Barnes, executive editor and founder of The Weekly Standard (shown above left). “Even some of the smaller [agenda] things, moving the embassy to Jerusalem … He’s really a conservative now.”
Titled The Trump Effect on American Politics, the afternoon panel looked at what was unique about Trump. This president combines that agenda with his natural skills, especially negotiating, said Kayleigh McEnany, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee (shown above right). Trump is attempting to negotiate with Democrats to get major deals on immigration, spending, and the budget.
Trump could finally get a border wall with Mexico, something that has been talked about since a weak compromise was created back in 2006 called the Border Fence Act.
“We have been talking about a border wall for a long time. We don’t have it,” said McEnany of the RNC. “We haven’t had a deal-maker as a president … We finally have someone who might be able to make that deal.”
But a recent attempt to compromise on a rescue plan for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) failed. The DACA program, established in 2012 by President Barack Obama’s executive order, gave limited amnesty to adults who were brought to the United States illegally as children.
Trump revoked Obama’s executive order last September, leaving the future immigration status of an estimated 700,000 people, known in the media as dreamers, up in the air. (“Dreamers” refers to the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.) Trump gave Congress a March 2018 deadline to resolve the issue permanently, but the efforts to reach such an agreement have stalled.
Trump is now using the DACA issue as a valuable negotiating tool in wider-ranging immigration talks. Democrats are under heavy pressure to compromise, but some liberal interest groups want what amounts to a general amnesty for illegal aliens. Trump and Democrats balked earlier this month.
“I feel the president decided … that his base would react badly to a bipartisan deal,” said Rick Ungar, a liberal member of the CPAC panel and host of the SiriusXM show “Steele and Ungar.”
But Washington Times columnist Charles Hurt said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) got a “shellacking” from their members for daring to negotiate with Trump on immigration and narrowing the focus.
“The truth is Democrats don’t just want to give amnesty to dreamers,” said Hurt. “They want to give it to everyone else.”
McEnany and Hurt defended the president’s use of bargaining chips in tough negotiations.
“You do hold bargaining chips,” said Hurt. “Politicians love doing the easy stuff … The bargaining chip is to say no, no.”
Hurt said Trump’s bargaining tactics are like taking a rolled-up newspaper to a dog that made a mess on a carpet. Congress spends too much and does too little to fix things, he said.
McEnany said a large number of agenda items cannot be done because of the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.
Senate rules require a supermajority of 60 out of 100 votes to continue debate on many issues. This rule is intended to encourage senators to compromise, but in recent years it’s been used by leaders on both sides of the aisle to stall major changes.
Hurt said the paralysis has caused a “zombie government” that continues bloated spending without action.
But the Democrats will find a tough foe in the fall when they seek to use Trump against the GOP in midterm elections. The GOP will instead point to Pelosi, a former House speaker who is very unpopular with Republicans.
“Republicans have been running single-district campaigns against Nancy Pelosi for 20 years,” said Hurt. “She is the gift that keeps on giving.”
Ungar predicted the GOP will pick up two Senate seats, but would lose the House. If the Democrats do win the House, Ungar said, they will choose somebody other than Pelosi as speaker.