House Speaker Paul Ryan told them so, but his lieutenants were not interested in optics as they prepared to clamp down on the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.
Two tweets from President-elect Donald Trump, however, were enough. In a sharp turn, lawmakers dropped their gambit today.
Trump was understandably miffed at the ham-fisted move by the new Congress to make disempowering watchdogs the first order of business. Not only is it a distraction from his preferred narratives, it also called attention to vast and unresolved questions about Trump’s own ethical quandaries.
What was surprising, though, was that Trump would take on his own party so directly and so publicly.
As Trump acknowledged in his tweets, critics of the ethics office have a point to make. Instituted by Democrats in the wake of the shameful scandals that helped end the previous GOP House majority, the office gives considerable power to anonymous accusers.
It’s not unreasonable for lawmakers to be uncomfortable with the idea that their reputations and careers might be undone in a secret process. As we saw with Wisconsin’s nameless “John Doe” prosecutions, the possibilities for political mischief are real.
But taking on the office as the first order of business and doing so in a way that smacks of procedural shenanigans was foolish.
Perhaps Ryan encouraged Trump to launch the tweets, and is gratified by the result. More likely, however, Trump saw another news story sweeping in that was unhelpful to him and decided that he would change the course of the storm.
That seems more likely to be the case since House members told Fox News that the measure was being killed even before Trump tweeted. But now, rather than doing so on their own, House members appear to have done it at the demand of the incoming president.
Barack Obama’s presidency suffered because of his inability to engage with Congress directly. Standoffish and uninterested in the backslapping that comes with presidential vote wrangling, Obama was aloof.
Trump seems to be going quite the opposite direction. As he watches the legislative sausage making that will take place for the next 17 days until he is inaugurated, one imagines he will be tempted to engage even more.
But he could end up with the same sense from his party that Obama suffered with among Democrats: It’s all about him.
Style should perhaps not matter so much when it comes to making of laws. But it does. There will be a grace period for Trump, perhaps even more than for most presidents given his unfamiliarity with the process.
But the long-term denizens of official Washington will eventually bite back. And they have ways to frustrate any president’s agenda and cause frustrations and embarrassments as yet unseen.
Presidents build loyalty in their parties by delivering donations and victories to its members. But the first step is deference.
So far, Congress hasn’t mattered to Trump’s sudden, astonishing success. That’s going to change a great deal in the coming days. How he manages this relationship will be key to his success or failure.
Certainly the repeal is the fun and easy part. Doing so means not only pleasing the Republican base, but also has other niceties like a massive tax cut. The current plan in Congress calls for eating dessert first: repeal the law now, but work out its replacement over the next few years.
Conservatives like Sen. RandPaul, R-Ky., and liberals like House Minority Leader NancyPelosi are crying foul, albeit for different reasons. The concern on the right is that whatever comes next will be too expensive, too intrusive and not focused on free-market solutions. On the left, the concerns are about throwing the $20 million people covered under the law off of their health insurance.
Either way, Republicans seem unlikely to be able to agree on a replacement before the promised repeal comes due. The question for both conservatives and liberals: can they effectively threaten to block the repeal until the replacement is laid out.
President Obama heads to the Hill Wednesday, as does Vice President-elect Mike Pence and they’re both expected to talk about ObamaCare with members of their parties.
That’s a good reflection of how dominant this fight is likely to become.
--Conflicts of interest: Trump made a special New Year’s Eve shout out to his business partner, Emirati billionaire Hussain Sajwani, with whom Trump built one golf course in Dubai and is in the process of building another. The celebratory toast highlights again the complexities of having a developer for a president. Could foreign governments threaten or try to bribe him by doing or cancelling deals with his company even if he is not running it on a day-to-day basis?
--Russia: Also at his New Year’s Eve party, Trump told assembled reporters that he knew “things that other people don’t know” about Russia’s involvement in the presidential election. Trump claimed he would make his information public today or Wednesday, but if he doesn’t this will be a key point, especially as Republican lawmakers intend to have their committees look further into the matter. As WSJ’s Bret Stephens observes, politicizing intelligence has serious consequences. The only claim out so far this week is one from Julian Assange, who published some of the stolen documents. Assange, who formerly hosted a show on Russian state television, told Sean Hannity that Russia was not the source.
--Anxious electorate: A new Gallup survey shows less than half of Americans think Trump is capable of handling his duties, a dramatic decrease from President Obama or George W. Bush when they entered office.
Ford demonstrates towing capacity - Reuters: “Ford Motor Co said Tuesday it will cancel a planned $1.6 billion factory in Mexico and will invest $700 million at a Michigan factory as it expands its electric vehicle and hybrid offerings. The second largest U.S. automaker had come under harsh criticism from President-elect Donald Trump for its Mexican investment plans.”
--Marc Short, a top adviser to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, is set as director of legislative affairs for the Trump White House, reports Politico.
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Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in you inbox every day? Sign up here.