Leadership on the Right is a column that identifies and provides analysis for leadership challenges within the conservative movement.
Last week was an awful one for President Trump, pulling a twofer bucking Republican leadership and frustrating their already crippled agendas. Whipping his senior GOP colleagues into submission is no new trick for the Donald. Since the inauguration, Trump has made his one-way loyalty crystal clear (Comey), but the GOP commander-in-chief that Republicans were waiting on for 8 years has only weakened their authority and efficiency in both chambers.
To add salt, Trump’s latest one-two punch smack dab in-between the most devastating natural disasters the country’s seen in centuries means the former foes – hardline conservatives and business-centric moderates – are likely to have one unifying label in common next year: unemployed.
Tuesday: A Dream Deferred
To kick off the week, Trump left his GOP colleagues to sort out the details of his immediate termination of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program. With no specific guidance whatsoever, Trump tweeted to the nation and its 800,000 recipients, should Congress fail, he’ll cross that bridge. Later the President did add a smudge of Vaseline, tweeting direct to DACA recipients that during the six-month period, there is nothing to worry about.
Be that as it may, Trump’s decision has already served as a final blow to the Republican Party’s relationship with Hispanic voters once and for all.
Republicans came out in full force in opposition to Trump’s decision. First, Senator Cory Gardner threw his support behind the DREAM Act, encouraging full protections for Dreamers and including a path to citizenship. Speaker Paul Ryan and Arizona’s Jeff Flake took a different approach. With stiff upper-lips, they petitioned the President to retain DACA while working to draft comprehensive immigration policy.
Senator John McCain made a poignant appeal as well when he delivered the following remarks:
“Trump’s decision to eliminate DACA is the wrong approach to immigration policy,” McCain said. “[And] I strongly believe that children who were illegally brought into this country…should not be forced to return to a country they do not know.”
His words were powerful, but true to form, the president was not impressed.
Trump believes that his base is strong enough to counteract any outside resistance, moral or politically moderate. If Tuesday is any indication he certainly has his bases full support. The Faith and Freedom Coalition described the decision as “proper, proactive action,” then Wednesday, Roy Beck, the President of NumbersUSA, described it synically as “a wonderful Labor Day present to unemployed American millennials.”
Thursday: “What Debt?”
Thursday, NBC News broke the President and Senator Chuck Schumer may work together to explore ridding the nation of its burdensome debt ceiling. According to a source, Schumer convinced Trump of the idea in a meeting with Vice President Pence and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Ignoring the advice of Republican congressional leadership and his own treasury secretary, Trump said he wanted a solution and supported the Democratic plan on a deal to combine a short-term debt limit extension with a hurricane relief bill.
For obvious reasons, Republicans have long held the debt ceiling as a tool to control spending. In a press conference Speaker Ryan asserted, “There’s a legitimate role for Article 1.”
Ryan was visibly annoyed in a press briefing later in the day.
“I think that’s ridiculous and disgraceful that they want to play politics with the debt ceiling at this moment when we have fellow citizens,” Ryan told reporters.
He’s not wrong. In fact, the mounting national debt has been a premise to nearly every major legislative initiative the White House has advocated, including healthcare and tax reform.
Ignorant or indifferent, Trump was cavalier in a statement Thursday when he told reporters, “For many years, people have been talking about getting rid of [the] debt ceiling altogether…And there are a lot of good reasons to do that.”
Even as reconstruction begins in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Representative Bill Flores of Texas called it a “horrible idea.”
A Bleak End to the Week
We end the week approaching an even deeper divide between the president and his party.
Loyal supporters of the President see nothing but a campaign promise kept. They see Trump’s rebuke of Republican leaders as a shower of power: a way to “shake things up.”
The problem is that our Constitution requires a majority vote enact policy. Ideally, hundreds of short-term elected legislators feel the pressure from their constituents to do well on behalf of the people. Instead, Republicans feel an extra pressure to please, or at least evade, a volatile president ready to fire at-will at anyone he considers a roadblock. The result is sludge, legislators feeling too paralyzed to push policy for President with little impetus to be a team player.
This week proved it will be a long session for Republican leadership; for the American people, an even longer 3 years, 3 months and 3 weeks to go.