No sign that Congress will stand up to Trump

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - Doyle McManus

— Not long ago, dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Repub­li­can lead­ers in Congress had se­ri­ous qualms about Don­ald Trump.

Se­nate Repub­li­can Leader Mitch McCon­nell said Trump’s pri­vate re­marks about women were “re­pug­nant.” House Speaker Paul Ryan said his state­ments about a Mex­i­can Amer­i­can judge were “racist.” Sen. Ted Cruz called him “a patho­log­i­cal liar” (to be fair, that was in the heat of a nasty pri­mary cam­paign). Twelve of the 54 Repub­li­cans in the U.S. Se­nate, in­clud­ing Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona, ei­ther did not en­dorse or dis­endorsed their own party’s nom­i­nee.

But that was all be­fore Elec­tion Day. Now Trump is their leader, and the same GOP skep­tics are do­ing their best to give him a cheer­ful hon­ey­moon. If you were hop­ing Repub­li­cans in Congress would step up to pro­vide vig­or­ous checks and bal­ances on the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, the signs aren’t en­cour­ag­ing.

“We are com­mit­ted to ... work­ing hand in glove” with Trump and his aides, Ryan said re­cently, be­fore trav­el­ing to Trump Tower for a meet­ing with the pres­i­den­t­elect. “If we are go­ing to go big, we have got to hit the ground run­ning.”

GOP sen­a­tors are is­su­ing state­ments sup­port­ing Trump’s nom­i­nees for cab­i­net po­si­tions be­fore their con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings have been held.

And on the first real con­tro­versy of the new ad­min­is­tra­tion, Trump’s in­sis­tence that he doesn’t need to di­vest any of his busi­nesses while he’s in the White House, the party’s lead­ers are stu­diously silent.

“This is not what I’m con­cerned about,” Ryan said. “I have ev­ery bit of con­fi­dence he’s go­ing to get him­self right with mov­ing from be­ing the busi­ness guy that he is to the pres­i­dent he’s go­ing to be­come ... how­ever he wants to.”

It’s as if con­gres­sional lead­ers — know­ing that Trump de­rided them dur­ing the cam­paign as a bunch of es­tab­lish­ment pols who couldn’t get any­thing done — are sub­ject­ing them­selves to a lengthy job in­ter­view, try­ing to win Trump’s con­fi­dence so they can han­dle the de­tails of his leg­isla­tive pro­gram.

“In years gone by, Congress would ex­er­cise over­sight even if the pres­i­dent came from their own party,” said Nor­man Orn­stein, a con­gres­sional scholar at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute. “But now the tribal in­stinct has taken over.”

The rea­sons aren’t mys­te­ri­ous. How­ever im­prob­a­ble his elec­tion, Trump is now the undis­puted leader of the party, with sup­port from 89 per­cent of Repub­li­can vot-

LOS AN­GE­LES

ers, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent CNN Poll.

And by win­ning, he’s given Repub­li­can lead­ers in Congress an op­por­tu­nity they’ve yearned for since at least 1994: one-party gov­ern­ment from the right.

“We’ve been given the re­spon­si­bil­ity to gov­ern,” McCon­nell said last week. “That’s what hap­pens when you have the same party in con­trol of the White House, the House and the Se­nate.”

More­over, the GOP lead­ers have no­ticed that de­spite Trump’s pop­ulist rhetoric, his leg­isla­tive pro­gram is es­sen­tially the same small-gov­ern­ment con­ser­vatism they’ve long been preach­ing: lower taxes, fewer fed­eral reg­u­la­tions (in­clud­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal and fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tions) and an end to Pres­i­dent Obama’s health in­surance pro­gram.

Nat­u­rally, there are some di­vi­sions in the GOP over Trump’s poli­cies, but they’ve been muted so far.

Repub­li­cans don’t agree on ex­actly how to re­place the health care law, but the lead­er­ship has co­a­lesced be­hind Trump’s po­si­tion that the pro­gram should con­tinue un­til a re­place­ment is ready, per­haps as long as three years. (A wait that long would also push the mo­ment of truth past the next con­gres­sional elec­tion, an ad­van­tage in the eyes of some strate­gists.)

Trump’s warn­ing last week that he might slap puni­tive tar­iffs on Amer­i­can com­pa­nies that send jobs over­seas met with some mild push­back from Ryan and oth­ers who con­sider that kind of re­tal­i­a­tion an in­tru­sion on busi­ness free­dom. “We be­lieve that the best way to get at this is­sue is through com­pre­hen­sive tax re­form,” the speaker said.

And free-mar­ket, tea party Repub­li­cans are wor­ried that Trump may pro­pose an in­fra­struc­ture plan that in­cludes sig­nif­i­cant new fed­eral spend­ing.

“If he can make that work through the pri­vate sec­tor,” it might be ac­cept­able, Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a lead­ing fis­cal con­ser­va­tive, told Politico. “But aaaah! It’s hard to do that.”

Brat’s was a lonely voice, though. “Deficits were a big deal for Repub­li­cans dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, but I don’t think deficits mat­ter much to them any­more,” said John Fee­hery, a for­mer aide to the House Repub­li­can lead­er­ship.

In the face of the in­com­ing Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, the Obama-era di­vi­sions among Repub­li­cans in Congress don’t mat­ter as much any­more. What­ever their doubts be­fore Nov. 9, they’re all Trump Repub­li­cans now.

Doyle McManus is a colum­nist for the Los An­ge­les Times. Read­ers may send him email at doyle.mcmanus@la­times.com

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