Dec 23, 2017

White House, GOP expect 2018 grind, more polarization

Mike Allen, author of AM

Trump talks with journalists after signing tax reform legislation in the Oval Office yesterday. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Top White House officials tell us they anticipate 2018 will be a legislative and accomplishments grind, exacerbated by the very realistic prospects of losing their congressional majorities.

  • Complicating matters, President Trump faces a wave of staff departures, with thin pickings for replacements.
  • During Year 1, Trump had a ready supply of executive orders that he could sign while Congress dithered. But we're told there's not a big cupboard of new ones for next year: The most feasible ones have been done.
  • In this most improvisational of presidencies, there isn't a clear answer to what domestic topic to tackle next. "It's tough to look out on the horizon and see another sure or easy victory," one official said.

What's ahead: Earlier this month, economic staffers got a calendar invite for a Jan. 3 meeting with Gary Cohn to begin a push on infrastructure.

  • The top targets include reform of a permit quagmire that can last decades for a major project, and funding for what the White House calls "transformational technologies" — infrastructure for self-driving vehicles, and a boost for "tunneling" to make way for underground high-speed rail.
  • That could get some Democratic votes. But fiscal conservatives in the Republican base are never going to be wild about spending on public works.
  • A source close to the White House said that in a midterm year, "Do you really want a bipartisan issue? What is going to mobilize people to go to the polls and say. 'I have to vote for a Republican?"

At the same time, the White House will begin promoting welfare reform, with a job-training element to try to attract Democrats:

  • Speaker Paul Ryan is all for this. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell coolly choked the idea during an Axios News Shapers conservation with me this week: The measure would need 60 votes, and he doesn't see it attracting a single Democrat, making it a mathematical dead end.
  • There are other possibilities. At the Axios event, McConnell said for the first time that a bipartisan banking reform bill will get "early consideration" on the Senate floor in 2018, calling it "an important thing to do." But that really isn't a base-motivator, either.
  • AP's Alan Fram points out in a lookahead story for Congress: "Since Republicans will have just a 51-49 Senate majority next year — well shy of the 60 votes needed to pass most bills — Democrats will have leverage for most things, including a deal to prevent a politically jolting January federal shutdown."

Be smart: Most people ignore midterm elections and don't bother voting. Next year feels different: The Trump show has grabbed a sustained audience and Democrats, especially women, want it canceled ASAP. This will further galvanize Democrats and polarize the two parties.

  • Sleeper issue: Still lots of rumblings of another Supreme Court retirement. Nothing would light up D.C. like the chance for a Trump Court to rule the land for a generation.

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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

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By the numbers: Almost 6.9 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 worldwide and more than 3 million have recovered from the virus. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world with over 1.9 million.

George Floyd updates

Protesters gather north of Lafayette Square near the White House during a demonstration against racism and police brutality, in Washington, D.C. on Saturday evening. Photo: Jose Luis Magana/AFP via Getty Images

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have been rallying in cities across the U.S. and around the world to protest the killing of George Floyd. Huge crowds assembled in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Chicago for full-day events on Saturday.

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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