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What A Democratic House Could Mean For Trump's Legislative Agenda

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In the days after the midterm elections, one big question has been answered. Republicans will continue to run the Senate. But, come January, Democrats will run the House. Still up in the air - what this all means for the Trump administration's legislative agenda. So we called someone we think can speak to the challenge even if it isn't on his plate anymore. That is Marc Short. He is the former director of legislative affairs for the Trump administration. He left that position this past summer to become a senior fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. He does some other things, but he's kind enough to join us here in our studios in Washington, D.C.

Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

MARC SHORT: Thank you for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: So this certainly isn't the first time, you know, that a White House has had to deal with a House majority of a different political ideology. You know, most recently President Obama had to navigate a Republican Congress after his first couple of years in the White House. So I wondered if you took any lessons from how that played out in thinking about how you planned the legislative work at the White House those first two years. For example, did you front-load the legislative agenda thinking that this might happen?

SHORT: I don't know how much we front-loaded it, Michel. I will tell you that I sat down with people who'd served in the Obama Administration of Legislative Affairs so I could get guidance and advice from them. And that was incredibly helpful as to how we should think through working with Congress. But, you know, the reality was that somewhere to the Obama administration, when they had control the first two years - that's when you saw the most significant amount of their legislative agenda accomplished.

So, for the Trump administration, obviously there's an effort to repeal Obamacare that we fell short on. But the tax reform agenda, the regulatory agenda, the confirmation of judges certainly were big things they were able to be accomplished on a partisan manner. As you say, the next couple years, it's a question of what can actually be accomplished in a bipartisan manner, which is a different equation entirely.

MARTIN: What kind of conversations are they having right now in your old office?

SHORT: I'm probably more bullish, Michel, in believing there's actually more that can get accomplished. I think that the president always had more affinity for the Democrat plan on infrastructure spending, and I think that's - could be a big opportunity for the next couple years. And I also think there's opportunity on drug pricing - that the president probably has some opinions that are more in line with Democrat thinking on that issue as well. Of course, though, the White House leg affairs team is going to be handling a lot of subpoenas for information or inquiries for investigations. And against that backdrop will be, what do Democrats in the House decide to do regarding investigations or potential impeachment hearings? And how does that impact the legislative agenda, too?

MARTIN: But let's talk about how the Trump commission deals with its own caucus, the Republicans, at the moment. Because, as you just pointed out, there are issues on which the president says that he has more affinity with the Democrats' perspective than with a number of the Republican conservatives, for example - the sort of people who see themselves primarily as conservatives. They don't like those big stimulus packages. They don't want to see changes in the trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. So how do you deal with them?

SHORT: So I think they're each a little bit different. Let's talk infrastructure for one second because I think, typically, Republicans have talked a good game about being concerned about spending, and we have a debt that's now over $21 trillion. But, in reality, when push comes to shove, Republicans haven't shown much more willingness to stop spending than Democrats have. And so when you have an infrastructure spending bill that actually would provide resources back to their home state, I think you could see an avenue where Republicans work with the president.

Keep in mind as well that the president, I think, has more leverage now over the Senate because, in many cases, those members who won in this midterm cycle, I think, owe a lot of that victory to the president. And some of the president's biggest opponents among the Republicans in the Senate, whether or not it's the passing of John McCain and the retirement of Bob Corker, retirement of Jeff Flake, means he has a Republican conference that's more in line. So I think he has more leeway to say, hey, look - I've helped you. I need your help on this infrastructure package.

MARTIN: And what about on big issues where the parties really do have very different philosophies about the way forward? I'm thinking about immigration. How do you navigate something like that? Or do they just say that, the next two years, nothing's going to happen? It's all going to be...

SHORT: No.

MARTIN: ...Executive orders and the courts.

SHORT: I wouldn't say that. But I do have a caution there as far as optimism because I think that the immigration issue is one that certainly has pulled our two parties apart. And, big picture, I think there's an opportunity to say, I'll give you more leniency on giving a pathway to citizenship or guest worker programs if you give me border security, and everybody can talk about that. But when push comes to shove, and you get down in the details, the politics of each party begin to pull that apart.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, now that you're out in the private sector, you have a different life. I mean, you still keep your hand in, obviously. Are you concerned about the tone of our public discourse now? Is it OK with you the way people are...

SHORT: No.

MARTIN: ...Talking to each other?

SHORT: I think the tone has deteriorated, unfortunately. I think it's deteriorated across the board. I think it's deteriorated from the White House, but I think it's also deteriorated from Congress and - frankly, and deteriorated from the way the media covers the White House. So I think it's going to require people on all sides to have a new commitment to the way that we talk about these issues collectively.

MARTIN: That's Marc Short, former White House director of legislative affairs, now a fellow at the University of Virginia's Miller Center. He was kind enough to join us here in Washington, D.C.

Thank you so much for talking to us.

SHORT: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.