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Bridging The Gap
Trump's alienation of Congress could be his undoing, experts say
  Friday 18 August, 2017
Trump\'s alienation of Congress could be his undoing, experts say

President Trump is alienating congressional Republicans who might otherwise be his biggest defenders in the ongoing probe of the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, political analysts say.

"Trump's criticism of the very people he would need to defend him are potentially his undoing down the road," said Barry Burden, a professor of political science and director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Trump's frequent Twitter rants against prominent senators and his divisive comments about the racially motivated violence in Charlottesville, Va., have angered many Republican lawmakers who would normally have been inclined to support a GOP president in tough times, the professor said.

"They really have very little incentive to stand by him," Burden said. "Whether that would result in impeachment or some sort of censure motion, it's too soon to know. But I think most Republicans in Congress would be very content to see (Vice President) Mike Pence take Trump's place."

The president can't expect loyalty from Republican leaders when he hasn't given it to them, said Robert Speel, associate professor of political science at Pennsylvania State University. And Trump's failure to realize that could further undermine his presidency if special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation uncovers damaging information about the president.

"If the Mueller investigation finds that a crime has been committed, that could be the point at which Speaker (Paul) Ryan and Majority Leader (Mitch) McConnell break from Trump and say they can no longer support the president," Speel said. "One of the biggest risks for Trump is that Mueller comes out with a damning report and the president has already lost the goodwill of too many members of Congress."

In the last few weeks alone, Trump has launched a barrage of Twitter attacks against McConnell, blaming him for the Senate's failure to repeal Obamacare; blasted Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., as a "publicity seeker" for criticizing the president for equating white supremacists with the people protesting against them; and tried to undermine the re-election campaign of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., calling him "toxic."

Flake and Graham are both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible ties between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.

Trump has also tangled with Ryan, blasting the House speaker as "a weak and ineffective leader" last October after Ryan condemned then-candidate Trump for bragging in an Access Hollywood video about grabbing women by the genitals.

"The president has no experience in governing and just doesn't understand how it all works," Burden said. "He's used to running a business where he can just exile or replace people if they don't do what he wants. The trouble is he doesn't have control over members of Congress. They have their own independent base of support back in their states, and I think the mechanics of legislating just frustrate him."

That doesn't mean that GOP leaders will balk at passing Trump's agenda, at least on issues such as tax reform that they support and believe will help get their members re-elected next year, said Michael Zilis, assistant professor of political science at the University of Kentucky.

"It's clear that the tension between Trump and Congress has been exacerbated recently, but I'm not entirely sure how significant an effect this is going to have on his legislative agenda," Zilis said. "The overarching goals of Republicans in Congress are largely compatible with what Trump is seeking. They may not like Trump, but they don't really have anyone else to work with at this point."

House Republicans may be especially reluctant to criticize Trump because they fear a primary challenge from Trump supporters on the right, Speel said.

"I think we're going to continue to see gradual slippage (in Trump's support among GOP Congress members)," Speel said. "I don't think you're going to see a large number of Republicans coming out against him."

The exception: Republicans who represent swing districts that Hillary Clinton won in last year's presidential races. Those centrist Republicans, including Reps. Will Hurd of Texas, Carlos Curbelo of Florida and Ed Royce of California, have been among the toughest GOP critics of Trump's comments on the Charlottesville violence.

"Blind allegiance to the supreme leader? No thanks," Curbelo wrote on Twitter, referring to the president. "He's dead wrong here and I won't stop saying it."

The president is in bigger trouble in the Senate, where Republicans hold a slim 52-48 majority and angry Democrats have united against him in a chamber that requires 60 votes to pass most major legislation.

"There is no Democratic support for the president anymore," Speel said. "Passing an infrastructure bill (to rebuild roads and bridges) had looked like a bipartisan issue earlier this year, but now Democrats will be angering their base if they support anything that Trump wants. The Democratic base is furious with Trump, and they will be furious at Democrats who cooperate with him."

Even when Republicans use special procedural tools to try to pass bills with a simple 51-vote majority, there is no guarantee that they will vote Trump's way. Legislation to repeal Obamacare failed last month when three Republicans voted against it.

Trump responded by attacking McConnell, ordering him to "get back to work" as both moderate and conservative senators rallied to defend their majority leader. He also has blasted McCain, a respected senator who is suffering from brain cancer, using his controversial Tuesday press conference to denounce the maverick Arizonan as the one "who voted against us getting good health care."

GOP Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reflected Republican senators' growing frustration with Trump's leadership Thursday.

"The president has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability, nor some of the competence, that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful," Corker told reporters in his home state of Tennessee.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/08/17/trump-alienation-congress-could-his-undoing-experts-say/576361001/

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