President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda received a serious and significant self-inflicted wound when he fired FBI Director James Comey last week. For those holding out hope that the Administration would pull it together this year and pass tax reform and at least begin to rebuild our crumbled infrastructure…fuggedaboutit.
The President’s obsession with campaign 2016, alienating tweets, partisan pot shots and significant shifts to the extreme right have cut short any potential honeymoon with Democrat lawmakers. The unprecedented firing of Director Comey now threatens a separation within Republican ranks, and a potential annulment with the American people through increased concerns over possible obstruction of justice.
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Progress on the issues of most concern to the voters—jobs, the economy, reinvestment in America and our communities—is abruptly stalled as a result of national security concerns resulting from Russia’s election meddling, the President’s most peculiar defense of Russia and former Director of National Intelligence Michael Flynn, and perceived efforts to thwart House, Senate and now FBI investigations.
A significant amount of political capital has been spent already on the repeal and replacement of Obamacare—the Affordable Care Act. From a failed attempt to bulldoze House Republicans into voting for a poorly negotiated health care bill, to April passage of a House Republican bill that was received dead on arrival in the Republican controlled Senate, all the while threatening to campaign for rivals of any incumbents who opposed him, the President and his team have demonstrated a political ineptness that defies the expertise of many of the more seasoned political professionals and strategists on his leadership team. The fate remains to be seen in the U.S. Senate, but health reform is going nowhere, and fast.
On tax reform, the Administration initially sought to pass a bill and have it signed into law before the August congressional recess. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin backed off that but remained hopeful that tax reform could still be completed this year. A paltry one-page policy proposal was then released prior to President Trump’s first 100 days. The proposal, while at least a first step, raised more questions than answers. While I disagree, some Democrats and other detractors insist tax reform should not go forward until it is clear how such would impact the President, his family and their myriad companies. Mr. Trump heretofore has refused to do so. It seems obvious that the examination of his tax returns could greatly impact the various investigations, but tax reform legislation should not be held hostage to such release. And what of repealing Dodd-Frank and reinstating Glass-Steagall? Only a turn to the populist away from Wall Street is likely to reassure the blue collar supporters at the heart of the Trump base.
Perhaps the greatest missed opportunity is the $1 trillion dollar infrastructure investment bill supported by huge numbers of Republican, Independent and Democrat voters. The one domestic policy issue around which the nation across all states, urban and rural areas and party affiliations could come together is leaderless. This initiative above all is sorely needed to put America back to work, repairing our rail, bridges, airports and shipping ports, expanding and enhancing broadband and connectivity for all Americans, not to mention other items like mitigating toxic water and waste systems. The nation’s roads, specifically, are approaching third world conditions, and a mother of all political bombs has such been dropped on them, all but obliterating the potential for a visibly ‘greater’ America in time for the November 2018 elections.
Arguably, tax reform and infrastructure could do more economic good for our country by creating jobs and a sure-footed path to progress than anything else. Alas, the firing of Mr. Comey has thrust the various investigations about any meddling by Russians and collusion with those in Trump world into a higher gear than a few days ago. By succumbing to the obsession of the media coverage, rejecting the counsel of seasoned advisors and taking his focus off the commitments made to and needs of the American people, the President has surely shot his legislative agenda in the head. It will remain in the ICU, if not morgue, for the year.
Efforts to reunite the country by rattling the saber of war and increased foreign military intervention are unwise. The public is weary and the budget insufficient to escalate conflict after conflict in either a false show of power or a diversionary commercial from the reality of the investigations now taking place. The President has few choices but to appoint a credible and respected non-partisan to replace FBI Director Comey, file the campaign 2016 handouts and get on with the specific business of jobs and infrastructure.
When Mr. Trump was elected, I promised myself to be fair and optimistic in public comments about him. I’ve done so and received criticism for being too idealistic and hopeful. I believe he truly wants to fulfill his campaign promise, and is likely both perplexed and apoplectic with distractions. But clearly the White House is distracting from its own agenda and has grossly underestimated the impact of the perceived or real interference with the ongoing investigations into election tampering and cyberattack on the U.S. democratic process. We all want our country to do well. We need integrity, bipartisanship, steady, focused and competent leadership to move forward as a nation.
President Trump has made a grievous miscalculation that has mortally wounded his 2017 legislative agenda. That’s not only exceedingly bad for the President, but hugely harmful to our people and our country.
Former US Trading Commissioner Bart Chilton is a policy and political commentator and author of Ponzimonium: How Scam Artists Are Ripping Off America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org