Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Congress – The Coming Storm

The election of President-Elect Donald Trump will mark a new inflection point in the relationship between the executive branch and the legislative branch in the foreign policy realm. We are already feeling its shockwaves as the Obama administration shelves its last plan for cooperation with the Republican-dominated Congress: a last-ditch move to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership during the “lame duck” session between when old Congressmen waiting to start a new term or leave D.C. handed their seats off to their replacements. However, this is nothing compared to what we will see over the next four years. First of all, Trump is still nursing deep wounds between himself and Congressional leaders. After all, both Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, leaders of the Senate and House respectively, admonished him during his campaign, and took a long pause before lukewarmly endorsing his campaign. These conflicts will continue into the new administration. All three know that they are fighting for their positions, not just as leaders of different bodies of government, but also for credibility and leadership of the Republican Party. One or more may even be jostled out of power by this competition. For example, if Speaker Ryan is perceived as losing too many public fights with Donald Trump when they disagree on policy, he will be asked to step down by Republican leader. On the other hand, if Donald Trump is accused of an impeachable offense during a time when Republicans dominate the legislature, he may wish that his relationship with the two Congressional leaders was warmer. There are many avenues for cooperation, all three wish to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Border security should also be a fairly innocuous task that can be used as red meat to Trump’s newfound base. Finally, Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee should face an easy confirmation hearing. From there, the tasks seem divergent. Already, McConnell has signaled opposition to President-Elect Trump’s plan to enact Congressional term limits. Furthermore, replacing the ACA invites the opportunity to clash on the many details of a comprehensive healthcare law. Donald Trump has also picked some controversial figures for his leadership team, in particular Senator Jeff Session, who has already failed one Senate confirmation hearing for the body that he is supposed to be appointed to lead, the Department of Justice. Finally, provoking frivolous conflicts abroad will ruffle many feathers among Republican lawmakers, anxious to keep their seats in the mid-term elections that typically favor the opposition party. Observers are in for a treat as a fight for the primacy of the Republican Party begins. Donald Trump comes in to this fight knowing that he might only have the support of his Republican colleagues on the surface level, but his colleagues know that their districts supported him, and that his political future may also be tied to theirs. This should make the conflict a more nuanced, rhetorical battle, but a crisis could escalate it into a slugfest.

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