Trump on winning streak by going it alone
Self-proclaimed master deal-maker encounters troubles with Congress
President Trump scored a major win in the courts this week, saw some of the air go out of the Russian collusion narrative that dogged him for months, and proved he is not a major electoral liability for Republican candidates at the polls — but he is still struggling for his first major legislative win on Capitol Hill.
Despite his personal appeal Tuesday, Senate Republicans announced they were punting — for now — on repealing Obamacare. House Republicans are struggling to find unity on the president’s promised tax code overhaul. And Mr. Trump has been unable to win funding for his border wall.
Five months into his tenure, the president — a self-proclaimed master dealmaker — has in fact had far more success going it alone, using executive power to impose his will.
He has managed to cut illegal immigration across the border to a 40-year low, begun to roll back the Obama administration’s red-tape legacy, and eviscerated his predecessor’s global warming and other environmentalist plans.
His backers say he also has reasserted U.S. leadership in the Middle East and put NATO allies on notice that they must do more to provide their own defense.
He rewarded his base by appointing a solid conservative to the Supreme Court, and the Republican Party has triumphed in four special congressional elections under Mr. Trump, albeit all in Republicanleaning districts.
“All we do is win, win, win,” the president said last week, taking a victory lap after special election wins in Georgia and South Carolina.
He also turned a corner this week with a Supreme Court ruling reviving at least part of his travel ban executive order, and he scored a symbolic victory against the press when CNN retracted a story about a Trump associate it said had nefarious ties to Russia.
It couldn’t come at a more opportune time for Mr. Trump, who is struggling to get a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare across the finish line. The effort was dealt another setback Tuesday when eroding support among Senate Republicans forced the postponement of a planned vote this week until after the Independence Day recess.
Jim McLaughlin, a Republican strategist and pollster whose New York firm did consulting work for the Trump campaign, said the president had found his footing in the White House and should use the newfound traction to work on Capitol Hill.
“I’ve known Donald Trump a long time. And he’s a really, really bright guy, and he learns — whether it is learning how to build things and be a developer or learning how to do TV. And I think he’s learning how to be president,” he said. “Look, they are on track if they can get something done here on health care and on taxes and get the economy going. That’s exactly what the American people are looking for.”
He credited Mr. Trump with keeping the promises he made on the campaign trail and giving Americans what they voted for by standing up to the Washington establishment.
“A lot of the time the press goes crazy and says he’s tweeting and he’s not putting the briefings on camera and all that stuff. And that’s not what the American people are concerned about,” said Mr. McLaughlin. “What they are concerned about right now are real kitchen-table issues: the economy, being safe from terrorism, health care, education, how am I going to send my kids to college. And that’s what they want these folks to talk about.”
Mr. Trump’s wins have done little to quell the Resist movement that sprung up after his election, however, and his struggles on Capitol Hill have only emboldened his legislative opponents.
They said Mr. Trump has turned his back on the voters who put him in the White House by backing major changes to the Medicaid program and proposing deep cuts in his budget for social safety net programs.
Democrats also say he has failed to fight China’s unfair currency practices, lacks a strategy to defeat terrorists in the Middle East and hasn’t reached out to work with them on infrastructure — one major legislative item on which there appears to be bipartisan agreement.
“In no way, shape or form is he keeping his campaign promises. He is not committed in any way to the legislative priorities that he spoke of so ardently on the campaign trail,” Democratic strategist Christy Setzer said.
She argued that Mr. Trump’s failure to achieve early legislative successes, especially with his party in control of both chambers of Congress, bode badly for the remainder of his presidency.
“There’s a reason why we pay attention to the first 100 days,” said Ms. Setzer. “Typically, presidents who don’t get much done in the first 100 days don’t get much done in the second 100 days or the third 100 days. I suspect that will be the case for President Trump.”
Fading from public view, though, are the congressional investigations into whether Mr. Trump or his associates colluded with Russia to influence the election — a charge that seemed to challenge the legitimacy of his presidency.
A renewed zeal was palpable when White House senior deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders chided reporters at the daily briefing Tuesday.
“I think that there are a lot of things happening in this world that, frankly, a lot of people would like to hear about. Whether it’s job growth, whether it’s deregulation, whether it’s tax reform, health care. I think a lot of those things deserve a lot more coverage than they get,” she said.
Mrs. Sanders, expounding on the CNN retraction and a report about network editors admitting that the Russia collusion stories had no basis, said: “All we’re saying is, you know, I think that we should take a really good look at what we are focused on, what we are covering, and making sure that it’s actually accurate and it’s honest.”
The retracted CNN story was based on an anonymous source and erroneously claimed that financier Anthony Scaramucci, a member of the Trump transition team, was being investigated by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence over a meeting he had with a Russian investment banker.
Mr. Trump claimed victory on Twitter after CNN pulled the article and three of the network’s top journalists resigned over their role in it. CNN also instituted new rules for reviewing stories about Russian meddling in the presidential election.
“Fake News CNN is looking at big management changes now that they got caught falsely pushing their phony Russian stories. Ratings way down!” the president said on Twitter.
In another tweet, he added: “So they caught Fake News CNN cold, but what about NBC, CBS & ABC? What about the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost? They are all Fake News!”
President Trump has managed to cut illegal immigration, begun to roll back Obama administration’s red tape, and eviscerated his predecessor’s environmentalist policies.