Trump To Try Bipartisanship?

[ Posted Monday, January 29th, 2018 – 18:11 UTC ]

Tomorrow night, President Donald Trump will give his first official State Of The Union speech. The White House is leaking that his speech will be the first where he reaches out in an attempt to unify the country and offer bipartisan leadership to Congress. That is a pretty tall order for this particular president, for obvious reasons. But even if he manages to deliver an impressive speech, it's not likely to change anything afterwards. At least not in the way of actual bipartisan legislation, since Democrats are not likely to strike such deals right before a midterm election that could put them in a much better bargaining position afterwards.

Partisan politics can get petty at times, and no one exemplifies the pettiness of politics more than Trump. To say that he's already poisoned the bipartisan well is nothing short of understatement. While Democrats have struck deals with Trump, the most notable were the deals which were later (sometimes almost immediately) blown up by Trump's mercurial shifts in what he wants, what he thought he agreed to, and what he thinks his base really wants of him. As Chuck Schumer pointed out, it's like trying to negotiate with Jell-O. There simply is no solidity, merely wobble. This lessens the chances for any sort of big bipartisan deal being struck in Congress any time soon, with the possible exception of the ones facing imminent deadlines (the budget, the debt ceiling, and the DACA kids). But Trump, from the State Of The Union leaks so far, is going to set his sights even higher.

Trump himself, if reports are true, thinks he missed an opportunity to strike an early bipartisan deal on infrastructure. He may well be right about that, but at this point it may also be too late for him to do anything about it. Consider the fact that it took him (and his White House) an entire year to learn even the rudiments of how legislative negotiating is supposed to happen. Last week -- long after the shutdown had happened over the same issue -- the Trump White House finally released their starting bid in the negotiations over DACA and immigration. This was really the first time such a list had existed -- on any issue.

Throughout all the wasted months when Trump was urging Congress to repeal Obamacare, the White House never had a solid list of what it wanted to see in any replacement. Trump swore up and down on the campaign trail that he had a big, beautiful plan which would cover everyone better and cheaper, but when it came time to reveal the plan, Trump couldn't. Not only did he never have such a plan in the first place, he couldn't even come up with one in the midst of all the negotiations over what should be in a Republican healthcare plan.

On his one legislative achievement to date -- tax cuts -- again, Trump wasn't that involved with the negotiations at all. He occasionally tossed out half-baked ideas, but never produced a list of his own priorities for Congress to consider. The bill eventually passed, but the White House was only peripherally involved in the negotiations (this, of course, didn't stop Trump from claiming all the credit afterwards).

It took until the DACA debate -- over a full year into his presidency -- before the Trump White House even came up with a priorities list for a piece of legislation. So the learning curve has been pretty steep. Just before the shutdown happened, Mitch McConnell showed his frustration on the floor of the Senate by saying he had no idea what Trump wanted or would agree to on DACA. This may have been what finally spurred the White House to come up with an actual position on an issue, in fact.

Democrats have every reason to be wary of Trump as a negotiating partner. His childish insults on Twitter certainly don't help matters much, either. But even ignoring the playground name-calling, Democrats still don't have much reason to even attempt to work with Trump at this point, on anything that doesn't have an explicit deadline. There will be enough problems getting a DACA bill and the budget worked out, and that's going to consume all of February (if not most of March, as well).

We are a little more than nine months away from the midterm elections, and Democrats are already feeling a wind at their backs. Resistance to Trump has grown and shows no signs of abating. This may in fact be one of the biggest reasons why Trump would even attempt any sort of bipartisan outreach -- or even attempt lip-service towards bipartisanship in a single speech. But even if he gives the speech of his life tomorrow night, there is no guarantee that he'll follow through on any of it. Even if he is sincere, Congress isn't going to have time or energy to put towards any of his new proposals until springtime. Which puts us that much closer to election season.

Republicans are (quite rightly) getting more and more anxious about their prospects in the midterms, by the day. However, for them this means they'll likely be less inclined to strike deals with Democrats, since the only route to avoiding a blowout will be to enthuse their base enough that they turn out in large numbers. Cutting deals with Democrats is not the way to do this, to state the obvious.

Democrats are normally more predisposed to striking bipartisan deals, but this time around they've got two big reasons not to do so. When a lot of the energy on their side is directed squarely against Trump and everything he stands for, why would Democrats want to give him a victory to crow about just before an election? That would only depress the Democrats' base voters, perhaps so much that they wouldn't turn out in the numbers that will be necessary to generate a wave election.

The second big reason Democrats have for keeping Trump at arm's length is the fact that they could strike a much stronger deal if the election goes their way. Even if the Democrats only take back the House, that means that Nancy Pelosi will determine what is in the bills that get passed there. Rather than just being a voice crying for the Democratic agenda in the wilderness of the House minority, she could instead be the chief negotiator for that agenda with the White House if she regains the speaker's gavel. Why would Democrats negotiate a bipartisan infrastructure bill now, when they could be in a much stronger position to do so after the midterms? If the wave crests high enough, they could even be in charge of the Senate as well, relegating the Republicans in Congress to the minority position in any negotiations.

If Trump and the White House were offering a really sweet deal on infrastructure, this might be politically harder for Democrats to ignore. They'd be seen as putting party before country if they were turning down a really good offer just to gain a political advantage. But from all reports, that's not what they're going to get from Trump. While he promised in his campaign to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure (indeed, it was one of his signature issues), it is now being reported that he's going to only commit to $200 billion in federal spending, and the rest of that trillion dollars is supposed to magically appear out of thin air, somehow. That is not a sweet deal for Democrats, or for the country as a whole. So refusing such a deal isn't going to hurt Democrats politically at all.

Next January, if Democrats do retake the House, Nancy Pelosi could pass a real trillion-dollar infrastructure bill and, by doing so, dare Trump to accept the fulfillment one of his own campaign promises. If the White House position is to offer $200 billion, then perhaps a deal could be reached in the middle (say, $600 billion in new federal infrastructure money). But it's doubtful that Trump would strike such a deal before the election, since the Democrats wouldn't be in nearly as strong a position to negotiate it.

So while Trump may indeed give a speech which attempts to reach across the aisle in Congress tomorrow night, it probably won't lead to any major legislation this year. Even before considering the electoral politics of such a deal, Trump has already poisoned the well by going back on his word so many times already. At this point, nobody -- not even his own fellow Republicans in Congress -- trusts that a Trump deal is going to last even a few hours. You may leave the Oval Office thinking you've got a solid commitment, but hours later Trump is petulantly tweeting the exact opposite, complete with playground insults. There are already major battles waiting in the wings which will consume the next few months, and even if DACA and the budget do get eventually hammered out there may be little trust or bipartisan willpower afterwards.

Because this Congress is so incapable of doing two things at once, pretty much any new proposal Trump unveils tomorrow night isn't even going to get discussed in Congress until late March (at the earliest). At that point, the election will be a little over seven months away. Trump, obviously, would love a big legislative victory for the election campaign, but there is no reason Democrats should give him one. If the election goes their way, they'll be in a much better position to talk about bipartisanship next year. No speech, no matter how well delivered, is going to change that basic dynamic.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


6 Comments on “Trump To Try Bipartisanship?”

  1. [1] 
    Paula wrote:

    President Unfaithful Sh!thole can say whatever he wants in his speech tomorrow - no one with a brain will believe him. There will be various people who have reasons to pretend to believe him and they'll go through the motions. (And, of course, the deplorables will swallow anything.) But he's made it very clear he can't be trusted, period. Whatever he says will likely be contradicted within minutes if not hours or days. Maybe he'll throw an infrastructure plan out there, but even if it's superlative (highly doubtful) I think it will get swamped by all the other crud that keeps happening.

    Just today we learn he isn't going to enforce Russian sanctions voted into law -- and signed by him. GOP toadies are doing an "investigation" of the FBI and DOJ in an effort to delegitimize Mueller's work. McCabe is leaving and Blotus is going after Rosenstein. And on and on.

    The usual suspects will spend a few days (unless something else blows up) claiming Blotus reading his SOTU address from a teleprompter without slobbering is the pivot we've been waiting for -- UNLESS its full of Acting-President Kelly/Resident Nazi Miller's white nationalism. But if he takes a stab at sounding "presidential" he'll get some undeserved good press during the interval that passes before he does/says something stupid/treasonous/dangerous.

    The sad thing re: Blotus is that even when he has a stab of decent feeling about something he never follows through. AND he's generated so much bad will out there people -- other than his base -- will be disinclined to give him credit. And since his occasional positive impulses are dwarfed by his negative impulses there's very, very little to give him credit for.

    I doubtful he'll last the night before tweeting something unpresidential. He'll be desperately watching news coverage - FOX will canonize him but other outlets will have mixed reactions and he'll be shocked, SHOCKED, that his "bipartisan" speech wasn't seen as the GREATEST SPEECH EVER WRITTEN BY SOMEONE ELSE AND READ FROM A TELEPROMPTER and he'll be off!

  2. [2] 
    Kick wrote:


    ^^^ Exactly this. ^^^

    And remember these important tips for watching the State of the "Uniom" (SOTU) address:

    ** When Trump makes the "O's" with his thumb and forefinger, he's reading from the telepromter.

    ** When Trump speaks using the multiple identical words, he's improvising, e.g., "very, very" or "very, very, very."

    ** When Trump's lips are moving, he's either:
    (1) lying or
    (2) taking credit for something that either
    (a) existed before he took office or
    (b) Trump hasn't managed to screw up yet or
    (c) both.

    As long as Trump is president, I think there is ample evidence to change the name of the SOTU to the STFU, and whoever keeps misspelling stuff could easily make that happen. :)

  3. [3] 
    neilm wrote:

    It would not surprise me if we got a laundry list of nice toys for everybody, but with no plans to pay for anything.

    I also expect, like Paula and Kick, that there will be a lot of self congratulating - especially on the economy, jobs, and the stock market - with his Tax Bill featuring prominently as the reason.

    On DACA, I'm sure that we will hear how much he wants to help the kids, but how he needs the Democrats to step up to the plate.

    I expect the whole charade to be nauseating.

    I wonder if anybody will shout "You Lie - times 2,000!"

  4. [4] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    I myself have placed an ambulance on standby for when I pass out from playing the SOTU drinking game.

    The rules of the SOTU drinking game are simple.

    1. Everytime he makes an the OK with his hands, take a drink.

    2. Anytime he says I, take a drink.

    3. Whenever he repeats himself... Take a drink.

    4. Whenever he makes a true statement finish the whole drink...

    5. Anytime he uses the word fake... you guessed it finish the whole drink.

    If I don't pass out I at the least expect to have to take two Advil and a quart of water before bed.

  5. [5] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Two or three back-to-back triple-digit declines ought to dampen his stock mkt cheering a tad, but knowing him, he'll likely say he's responsible for the ups and the Dems caused the downs.

  6. [6] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    I've been reading a number of other commenters, responding to the pre-press about the president's new-image address tonight, all saying the same thing: no matter what he says, he's long since lost all credibility with anyone who can tell truth from falsehood. "He'll be more presidential now", we've been told with decreasing frequency, since he tied up the nomination in mid 2016. It's never happened - and it never will.

    Like those commenters, I will not be watching the speech and I will avoid reading too much about it afterwards. As I know by now, if one filter's the president's public noise out by 95%, one will still learn everything one needs to know about the chief executive's current status.

    While driving today, and changing the radio station whenever I heard "President Tr...", I began wondering if the press will ever get to the point where it can simply report all news from the president as "the White House said today ... that the president did ... " etc. without ever mentioning his name, broadcasting his voice, copying his tweets, or showing his image on a screen. It would still be full time professional news coverage - of the news, foreign affairs, new laws, policy announcements, etc. - but it would cut the president himself out of the news as much as possible. One, it would drive him nuts with no recourse; and two, it would lower the national temperature back to almost sanity level.

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