If elected, Clinton will face fierce resistance,
If she wins, Democrat likely to face relentless obstruction from the Republican Party
WASHINGTON— Hillary Clinton has a reputation for cautious centrism. Her platform isn’t cautious or centrist. She is running an ambitious, liberal domestic policy agenda that would take America significantly further left.
If Congress were willing to co-operate. And it very probably wouldn’t be.
A Clinton presidency would almost certainly face the same relentless Republican opposition that has frustrated Barack Obama. Passing any important law would be difficult. Like Obama, Clinton would probably have to find creative and controversial ways to circumvent Congress.
“I’d vote against something meaningful happening legislatively in the next couple years,” said William Howell, a University of Chicago political science professor who studies the presidency. “Where we see change, big change: it’s not likely to be through legislation. It’s going to be on the international front through treaty-making and executive agreements, it’s going to be domestically through rule-making.”
The legislative issue is the divided, hyperconservative state of the Republican Party. The party has veered sharply to the right since the end of the George W. Bush presidency, especially in the House of Representatives. Polls suggest the Democrats are unlikely to win back control of the House on Tuesday. And Speaker Paul Ryan, who is no moderate but also no member of the party’s burn- down-the-house insurgent faction, will probably face so much rightwing pressure that his speakership may quickly be in peril from the same Freedom Caucus forces that made John Boehner miserable.
“The insurgents who topple an establishment do not go away. They never have in the past,” said Samuel Popkin, a University of California, San Diego professor who advised the Bill Clinton campaign in 1992 and is working on a book called Republican Crackup and the Future of Presidential Politics. “They never disappear. They reorganize.”
Republicans have been transparent about their motives. Abandoning even the pretense of willingness to work with the new president, some House Republicans have already announced that they would not only obstruct Clinton at every turn but investigate her for alleged pre-presidency misdeeds.
“Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up,” Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chair of the House oversight committee, told the Washington Post in October. He added: “She’s not getting a clean slate.”
The unusual declarations of war have not been limited to the House. Three Republican senators have said or suggested they would attempt to block any nominee Clinton puts forward to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, leaving the court with eight members.
They are unlikely to succeed on that front, but their general refusal to co-operate would be buoyed by Clinton’s unpopularity — with the party base, much of which believes she is a criminal, but also more generally. If Clinton beats Republican Donald Trump on Tuesday, as polls suggest she is likely to do, she would be the most unpopular person to win a presidential election in modern American history.
“This driving force on the far right to take it to the Democrats and certainly Hillary Clinton is going to be a real impediment to a Clinton presidency,” Howell said. “Even if she didn’t have these big negative ratings, she’d face big challenges, particularly on the legislative front . . . but at the margin, it does not help that she’s coming in with negatives above 50 per cent.”
There is much Clinton can do without Republican help. Obama has given her a template for governing through unilateral action. And the president has a free hand in many foreign affairs matters.
Clinton would, for example, get to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership — if she is indeed sincere about her new-found opposition — and put the final nail in the coffin of the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta. She would be able to pursue a harder line with Russia and a warming of relations with Israel. And as commander-inchief, she could change U.S. strategy in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
It is her expansive domestic program that appears least likely to become reality. She has vowed to im- mediately pursue comprehensive immigration reform that would offer a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. She has adopted most of Bernie Sanders’s plan to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for most students. And she has promised universal access to preschool, tens of billions to make child care more affordable, sharp tax hikes for the very rich, and universal background checks for gun purchases.
Perhaps the most likely proposal to get through Congress is one of the least sexy: infrastructure spending.
Top Obama budget official Peter Orszag, among other experts, thinks she has a chance of winning bipartisan approval for her proposal for $275 billion in new infrastructure spending over five years. Trump has also called for a big boost in infrastructure spending.
“I can’t imagine that that wouldn’t give the Republicans convulsions,” said Popkin. “How are they — some of them are going to say, ‘It’s money, we shouldn’t spend it,’ but most of them are going to say, ‘We need the jobs, we need the roads, we need the bridges.’ . . . I hope that’s the first thing she does.”
A Clinton presidency may end up being most consequential, on the domestic front at least, for protecting Obama achievements. Trump, for example, wants to repeal Obamacare. Clinton would keep it and try to tweak it. Trump, who does not believe climate change is real, wants to scrap Obama’s landmark limits on carbon emissions from power plants. Clinton would keep them.
“In this election, President Obama’s entire legacy is on the line,” she said on Thursday in North Carolina, and she was not wrong.
Some House Republicans have already announced that they would obstruct Clinton at every turn and investigate alleged pre-presidency misdeeds.