President Trump has proven he can do a lot of damage — to climate science, ethics rules, Syrian airfields, and the English language—but he has yet to prove he can get much done in Congress. On everything from jobs to taxes to health care, the president’s legislative agenda is not just stalled, it's evaporating.
The problem isn’t the Democrats, who have never been so weak in Washington. The problem isn’t the unpopularity of Trump’s policies, which could be overcome by Republican congressional majorities. The problem is Trump himself. When it comes to legislative deal-making, the author of “The Art of the Deal” is proving himself a bungler of rare ineptitude.
While Trump's legal problems related to Russia have dominated the headlines in recent weeks, six symptoms of legislative dysfunction have become visible in Trump’s Washington.
1. Unpopular health care agenda
Trump prudently stayed out of the closed-door negotiations in the Senate. Prudent, because the first time he opened his mouth, he inserted his foot in it. He told Republican congressional leaders that the House version of the bill was “mean,” exactly the point Democrats have been making ever since the non-partisan Congressional Budget office concluded the GOP bill would deprive 23 million people of insurance.
No one knows if the unseen Senate bill will pass. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. seems to be getting cold feet. The CBO has yet to “score” the Senate bill — analyze its fiscal and practical effects. And Trump is absent.
2. Receding tax bill
The reason Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set an early July deadline for the health care vote was so he and the rest of the Republican leadership can get on with the work that they — and their donors — really care about: tax cutting. The plan was to have a tax bill on Trump’s desk by the end of the summer.
That’s not happening, as Washington billionaire David Rubenstein recently let slip at a hedge fund conference in Las Vegas.
“No one here should assume you’re gonna get a big tax cut soon,” the co-founder of the Carlyle Group told the disappointed crowd. “For those who are looking for relief from Congress, you should look elsewhere.”
If Trump is not delivering on tax cuts for his base in the 1 percent, he is also not delivering on job creation for his working-class supporters.
3. Vanishing jobs plans
Trump came to office talking about a “border adjustment tax” to stimulate domestic production. Domestic manufacturers like Boeing and General Electric favor the idea because they believe it would help their business. Trump never attempted to persuade the public or congressional leaders about the border adjustment tax proposal, probably because he didn’t understand it.
As Trump dithered, the retail industry and the Koch brothers dispatched their lobbyists to Capitol Hill and suffocated the BAT while it was still in the crib. Now, when Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin talks about Trump’s tax plan, he says nothing about a BAT. It is safe to say that the Trump administration will not be using the tax code to stimulate domestic manufacturing or create American jobs.
Nor will Trump propose a trillion-dollar infrastructure jobs program, as he promised during the 2016 campaign. Steve Bannon dreamed such a jobs program would permanently win the American working class to his side. There are plenty of good ideas for improving America’s infrastructure out there, from the AFL-CIO to Michael Bloomberg. Trump ignored them all in favor of announcing the revival of Republican proposal to privatize the air traffic control system. This reform would not create any new jobs. His infrastructure plan was more a privatization scam.
4. Lack of discipline
Earlier this month, Trump promised to focus on “infrastructure” for a week. On Day 1 he launched a Twitter tirade that generated headlines about everything but infrastructure. Then he announced a “workforce training week." Another tweetstorm ensued about the appointment of his special prosecutor to investigate his Russia dealings, which obscured his message.
Trump signed an executive order celebrating “the dignity of work,” while the White House, in the words of Politico, steered:
"around the fact that Trump's proposed budget would cut DOL [Department of Labor] funding for training and employment services by 36 percent and the Education Department's grants to help states pay for career and technical education by 15 percent. Trump's proposed DOL budget does increase funding for apprenticeship grants, but only by one percent."
5. Lack of personnel
Three months into his presidency, Trump had not filled 85 percent of the senior jobs in his government. This may all be part of Bannon’s plan to "dismantle the administrative state." The fact that 85 percent of science job openings don’t even have a nominee is surely an expression of hostility to science.
But Trump can’t even fill the jobs he wants to fill. President Obama was three times faster at filling top jobs, according to a recent ABC News report.
Of the 151 nominees that have been announced and sent to the Senate, only 43 have been confirmed. In contrast, Obama had 151 nominees confirmed by this point, with Senate review and approval taking on average 32 days for each of them.
President Trump has yet to nominate anyone for 74 percent of key executive branch positions, according to Business Insider. Out of the 558 positions that require Senate confirmation, 415 have no nominee as of this week.
All of which is starting to show in the sixth sign of dysfunction . . .
6. Lack of results
The Trump administration is getting to be known as the "in two weeks" government, notes Bloomberg News in a comic masterpiece of deadpan reporting. When pressed for decisions, the Trump administration has a habit of saying “in two weeks.” In practice, the phrase means “whenever we get our act together.”
"Trump’s habit of self-imposing — then missing — two-week deadlines for major announcements has become a staple of his administration as it’s struggled to amass policy wins."
In his 1987 book, “The Art of the Deal,” Trump defended “an innocent form of exaggeration” as a negotiating strategy.
But Trump also warned about the perils of over-promising and not delivering.
“You can’t con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole,” he wrote. “But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.”