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What isn’t happening in the White House

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It might be hard to believe, but Monday will mark the one month anniversary of Donald Trump’s presidency. That’s because every day in the Trump administration packs in three or four days worth of news.

Just yesterday, Trump was contending with the fallout from the resignation of his national security adviser, as well as reports that his presidential campaign had regular contact with Russian intelligence officers — enough so that it alerted federal intelligence agencies. Trump also met with the prime minister of Israel and floated changing a bi-partisan, decades-old framework that’s served as the basis for Middle East peace talks. After that, Trump’s nominee to be labor secretary withdrew his name from consideration. It widely believed he didn’t have the votes to be confirmed.


With the rush of news coming out of this White House, it can be difficult to find the context for what is normal, and what is not. For example, most presidents have a cabinet pick or two withdraw before a Senate confirmation vote.

But if we’re arguing over whether what happened is normal or not, we’re missing the bigger picture: what isn’t happening.

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What isn’t happening? Any real policy changes. This is a problem for Trump because now — the first few months of the first term — is when historically a president has the most power to get anything done.

A Thursday morning Trump tweet highlighted this when, after he hailed record growth in the stock market, he said, “Great level of confidence and optimism – even before tax plan rollout!”

Here’s the thing: there hasn’t been a tax plan yet, or really any major policy proposal, rolled out. And we are nearly a third through Trump’s first 100 days in office.


Is this being too harsh? Politically, there are some comparisons between Trump and former President Obama’s first few months in office. Both came into power as outsiders who promised change. Both had majorities in the House and Senate, allowing them to (theoretically) move legislation quickly. Both also had to deal with getting a full slate of cabinet nominees through the Senate.

Consider, however, what headlines appeared on Feb. 16, 2009:

• Obama was set to sign a huge stimulus bill that had just been passed through Congress.

The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times all led their front pages with stories going behind the scenes on the crafting an auto industry bailout bill.

• USA Today and the Washington Post highlighted on their front pages a high-stakes decision by Obama to raise troop levels in Afghanistan by 50 percent.

Trump did campaign on some big themes, but also on some specific promises. These included the immigration ban, building a wall on the Mexican border, and withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (He’s attempted to address some of this through executive orders, but the ban, for example, has effectively been stopped in court). Trump, however, did keep his word on picking a Supreme Court nominee that conservative would like.

But he needs Congress to make big policy changes, such as tax reform, health care legislation, Wall Street regulations and a large infrastructure bill. So far, there appears to be zero action on any of these — except, if this even counts, Trump’s quick promise of a “tax plan rollout” in his aforementioned tweet.

In the end, Trump may not be judged on the policy changes he implements or doesn’t. His supporters might just like to see a president with a different tone shake up Washington, DC.

But Republicans have a president and majorities in Congress for the first time in a decade. If they don’t get going in a hurry, they might miss their chance to legislate the changes they have said they wanted for years.

James Pindell can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell, or subscribe to his Ground Game newsletter on politicshere.

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