President Trump’s relationship with members of his own party has been beyond erratic. This is the type of behavior that fuels his supporters. He is dismantling establishment politics and career politicians while recreating the existing political paradigm into one bearing his name while carrying a huge Trump sign etched into its facade. However, this pattern of behavior is troubling to the GOP, as it is firmly embedded in the political establishment at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. President Trump promises to “drain the swamp,” but may end up flushing away his administration’s agenda in the process.
The White House’s relationship with the Senate is particularly sour. With a slight 52-48 Republican majority, it plays a pivotal role in supporting and legislating President Trump’s policy priorities. However, the progress through the Senate has been difficult and slow for the entire duration of the president’s term. Budget director Mick Mulvaney summed up the White House’s tense relationship with the Senate in an Oct. 13 interview with Politico: “we look at the Senate and go: ‘What the hell is going on?’ The House passed health care, the House has already passed its budget, which is the first step of tax reform. The Senate hasn’t done any of that. Hell, the Senate can’t pass any of our confirmations! [If] You ask me if the Republican-controlled Senate is an impediment to the administration’s agenda: All I can tell you is so far, the answer’s yes.”
Most recently, the feud between President Trump and Republican Sen. Corker of Tennessee has occupied the news cycle. The latest shot across the bow came from Sen. Corker on Oct. 8 when his official Twitter account tweeted, “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.” This tweet came in response to President Trump’s twitter feed earlier in the day that claimed Sen. Corker “’begged’ me to endorse him for re-election…I said ‘NO’ and he dropped out…” among other disparaging things.
Sen. Corker is retiring from the Senate at the end of his term but many have contributed his decision to his hostile relationship with the president. The division among Senate Republicans goes beyond this conflict with Sen. Corker, largely due to their repeated failure to repeal Obamacare.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader of the Senate and flagbearer of the Republican agenda in the Senate, has borne the brunt of the blame for the Senate’s legislative failures. Last week, the two most powerful Republicans in politics held a “unity news conference” to ease divisions and promote the president’s tax reform plan. Most of the White House-Senate drama has overtaken the GOP’s legislative efforts in the news cycle, with the Senate having received much of the blame. This criticism hasn’t just emanated from the White House, though. When Speaker Ryan was asked what “the biggest obstacle to getting tax reform passed” was, he responded by bashing the Senate and the GOP leadership: “well, have you ever heard of the United States Senate before?” With this pressure, the majority leader is likely fighting for more than just the president’s agenda, but also his job.
On the tax law, Sen. McConnell promised that “we’re going to get this job done, and the goal is to get it done by the end of the year.” There does seem to be some truth to these words, as well as legislative traction in the Senate.
On Oct. 19, Senate Republicans voted 51-49 passed a budget resolution that included “a decade of proposed spending cuts and entitlement overhauls. But it’s largely seen as a shortcut to reforming the tax code, which Republicans have deemed a must-do after falling short on their attempts to repeal Obamacare,” per Politico.
This $4 trillion budget resolution also contains a provision that prevents a Democratic filibuster, hoping to ensure smooth sailing through the Senate; although, smooth sailing is not guaranteed, as Sen. Rand Paul voted against this resolution. It is quite clear from the past failures that not all Republican senators march in lock-step with the majority leader.
The Senate’s work pleased President Trump, issuing a congratulatory tweet to Sen. McConnell for taking the “first step toward delivering MASSIVE tax cuts for American people!” The White House issued a separate statement, proclaiming it “creates a pathway to unleash the potential of the American economy through tax reform and tax cuts.”
In a tweet, Speaker Paul Ryan applauded “the Senate for passing a budget, keeping us on track to enacting historic tax reform.” Majority Leader McConnell likely rested well for the first time in a while, as it seems all Republicans were uniformly satisfied with the Senate’s progress last week. What awaits in the coming weeks and months, and the respective expectations that they carry, are not immediately clear.
Following a turbulent month for Senate Republicans, things seem to have finally reached a calm state. Maybe this is the “calm before the storm” that the president promised. After receiving criticism from all sides, and most vociferously from the official party leader, President Trump, Senate Republicans have begun to deliver on a campaign promise and ideological pillar. Its success relies on the Senate’s ability to pass legislation and work with the House and the president, which have been critical partners in the past.