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The Presidential-Congressional partisan line is beginning to blur.
Within the past two weeks, President Donald Trump has sided with Democratic Congressional Leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) at least once. Accusations of a second partisan leap regarding DACA immigration measures are still looming. The first deal blindsided Republican lawmakers and their constituents, as the president sided with Democrats in a short-term debt ceiling raise conveniently, but not discreetly, packaged within a Hurricane Harvey relief aid package.
The bill prolongs an inevitable debt debate in favor of yet another near-sighted solution in the aftermath of a Congressional backlash to America’s debt topping $20 trillion. This move is a piece of a larger political chess game to find a hidden lever while our children bear its costs. The debate is largely predicated on whether the relief bill should ever have had a debt deal attached, what the timeline should be, and, unfortunately, who gains the political upper hand.
Meanwhile, the more recent DACA rumors largely have support of a significant percentage of the conservative national constituency that — regardless of legislative gravitas — feel the executive order was unconstitutional. The partisan line linking the President to Congress is rapidly dissipating.
Playing Checkers, Not Chess
President Donald Trump’s campaign largely revolved around giving a voice to those who felt they have been silenced, while continuously referencing his ability to negotiate. Much of his base originally linked this effort to an attempt to build cohesion in the Republican Party. The party is currently fractured into three sections: those linked to the Tea Party (eg: House Freedom Caucus), “Establishment” Republicans (eg: Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell), and moderate Republicans (eg: The Tuesday Group.)
Many longed for the president to bind the fractured party’s wounds, ultimately taping an ideologically diverse group of Republicans together to move forward on issues such as tax reform, immigration (border security), and balancing the budget. Instead the president — the leader of the Republican Party — continues to make deals, but not with his own team. Meanwhile, the wounds that plague the party remain unsolved and untouched. Meeting with Democratic leadership, without consent from his own party’s leadership, hinders Congress’ ability to lead in agenda setting; it ultimately hands the opposing party a platform to obstruct policy objectives when the motives are not mapped beforehand. The GOP is outmaneuvered and the executive and legislative branches must adapt accordingly.
Republicans are Losing their Turn
Republicans are fighting a short-term battle that ought to be fought in the long-run. Conservatives have allowed the left to paint a picture of heartlessness while the Republicans unintentionally continue to block each other from voicing their views. Budget cuts have been framed as cuts to necessary spending when Republicans should have been taking a party unifying stance such as: without cuts, children suffer the burdens of their parents. Changes to immigration policy have been portrayed as an attempt to rip children from their families, rather than an attempt to uphold the law and protect the immigrants following it. Tax reform is perceived as a tool to give breaks to the rich, rather than to support small businesses responsible for raising wages while lowering the unemployment rate and providing meaningful financial relief to the middle class. If they are to get anything done, they must begin playing chess instead of checkers by defining their agenda’s purpose with one voice. If they don’t, they will lose their turn.
Opposition candidates, and their respective pieces of legislation, are already organizing on the other side of the ticket. The Republican’s inability to move their agenda forward — especially on healthcare — has given Democrats a chance to advocate for their own agenda. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) announced his “Medicare for All” bill earlier this week and the other three major Democrat presidential frontrunners (to this point) have already came out in support: Elizabeth Warren (D- MA), Corey Booker (D-NJ), and Kamala Harris (D-CA). The bill is only politics as the Democrats don’t hold any branches of the federal government; this is similar to the conservative attempts to repeal Obamacare in-name-only knowing a presidential veto awaited its arrival. Republicans have inadvertently given a presidential talking point to its opposition and it’s still building steam. If Republicans can’t push the train off its tracks, or get their party unified around some major policy planks, the 2018 and 2020 election odds may look bleak.
Sacrificing the Pawn for the Queen, What Republicans Ought to be Doing
This is not to say that the president does not have an obligation to serve all Americans regardless of party, rather that having the best interest of all Americans in mind requires that the leader of the free world refuse to put the cart before the horse. As with the budget deal, any attempt to circumvent your own party’s leadership only degrades its longevity and vitality. The budget deal does contain a silver lining: as the GOP continues to struggle to pass healthcare and tax reform, the bill extends an arm of bipartisanship setting the stage for long-term change. Republicans will still have to deal with yet another budget negotiation in December in attempt to find cuts to, at the very least, reduce the deficit.
The looming DACA deal shows another attempt of the president to conduct damage control on immigration. Children brought to America have plausible deniability leading many to argue they are not responsible for their actions. The president may be using the issue as a primer to grease the wheels of significant border reform and set the tone for future legislative debates such as tax reform. Not necessarily an unwise play as both the House and Senate may have the votes to pass the border security-DACA compromise legislation. This may be a classic chess move, but the GOP may have sacrificed a rook when they could have sacrificed a pawn. They may have been able to hold on to their pieces for a later round. A DACA compromise makes sense from a political perspective, but when combined with the eroded trust from siding with Democratic leaders on the budget timeline, the president may have tipped his hand. Bipartisanship isn’t bad, but the circumstances are less than ideal.
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