President Donald Trump returned to the White House from his Florida holiday retreat on Monday evening, making clear that he's ready for upcoming policy fights in 2018, as the President vows to press for action in Congress on money for a wall along the Mexican border, immigration law changes, welfare reform, and other GOP legislative priorities.
"Much work to be done, but it will be a great New Year!" the President tweeted on New Year's morning, as he headed out for a seventh straight day of golf at his West Palm Beach, Florida club.
Here's some of what we can expect as 2018 unfolds:
1. Look for the President - and Republicans - to trumpet new tax cuts. It was their biggest accomplishment of 2017, and with key mid-term elections for Congress set for November, it's likely that Mr. Trump and GOP lawmakers in Congress will use the new tax law as their biggest point of advertising in coming months. Many Republicans said in late December that they hope approval of the tax changes will provide some momentum for other legislative work in 2018 - but with pressure from upcoming elections, it will be interesting to see what else GOP leaders can get through the House and Senate.
2. GOP edge shrinks in the Senate. As Congress starts the second session of the 115th Congress on Wednesday, Democrat Doug Jones of Alabama will be sworn into office, cutting the Republican majority in the Senate to 51-49. If you tuned out from the news over the holiday break, you missed Republican Roy Moore not only refusing to concede defeat, but filing a lawsuit to block Jones from being certified the winner of that Senate seat. The margin for Jones actually grew after military ballots, late absentees, and provisional ballots were tabulated, as Democrats will have their first Democratic Senator from the Yellowhammer State since Howell Heflin retired after the 1996 elections. The change makes it even more difficult for the GOP to get their agenda through the Senate.
3. Next government shutdown deadline - January 19. As lawmakers return to work - the Senate on Wednesday, and the House next week - they don't have much time to figure out a deal on funding government operations for the current fiscal year, which started in October. President Trump has made noise about forcing Congress to approve money for a wall along the Mexican border, but there still don't seem to be majorities in either the House or Senate for the border wall. Republicans want more money for the defense budget - as much as $54 billion more this year, and next year, as well. But Democrats have signaled that if the Pentagon is going to get more money, then they want extra for domestic programs as well. Since the GOP doesn't have 60 votes in the Senate, they can't push through a one-sided plan. It's not clear where this is going.
4. Legislative agenda for 2018 - welfare reform, infrastructure, and ?? With a package of GOP tax cuts for individuals and businesses now law, it's not exactly clear where Republicans and President Trump try to go next in the Congress. The President has talked about welfare reform - GOP leaders in the House have talked about cuts to entitlement programs like Medicaid; but both of those could be controversial. The President has talked about pushing for increased spending for new roads and bridges, but almost a year into the job, the GOP has not released an infrastructure plan, as many GOP lawmakers oppose the idea of such extra spending. It's not clear if Mr. Trump's campaign promise of $1 trillion in new infrastructure will get through Congress or not in 2018.
5. Will there be an immigration/DACA deal? Over the Christmas break, the President made clear that if there was going to be any legislative deal on illegal immigrant "Dreamers" who were protected under the Obama Administration's DACA program, then Democrats must accept some immigration measures that Republicans favor. For Mr. Trump and many other Republicans, three main issues are in play - money for a wall along the Mexican border, an end to so-called 'chain' migration, where extended family members are allowed to come to the United States to join someone who has been allowed in to the country legally, and what's known as the 'Diversity Visa Lottery" program. While Democrats aren't really interested in any of those, they don't have the leverage to force the President to just accept a plan to legalize the DACA Dreamers. This will be an interesting fight in the next two months.
6. A story you might have missed over the holiday break? As the Senate wrapped up work just before Christmas, dozens of nominations made by President Trump were returned to the White House by the Senate. While the Senate doesn't make public which Senators lodged an objection against which nominees, it was assumed in the halls of the Capitol that Democrats were responsible, as they have been locked in an endless struggle with the GOP over Trump nominations of all kinds. Most of the nominees weren't household names, but some were for big positions, like Alexander Azar to head the Department of Health and Human Services, and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) to lead NASA. Starting Wednesday, once the second session of Congress convenes, then the President can re-submit those nominations, or find new picks for 100 different positions.
7. Russia investigation not going away anytime soon. With two indictments and two guilty pleas, Special Counsel Robert Mueller seems to only be at the beginning of his investigation. Probes of possible Russia links to the Trump campaign also continue in both the House and Senate Intelligence committees. The Inspector General of the Department of Justice is also reviewing how the FBI handled both the Clinton email investigation, and the start of the probe involving Russian interference in the U.S. elections in 2016. Meanwhile, two pairs of committees in the House are also looking at the FBI's conduct, the Trump dossier, the Clinton email probe, the Clinton Foundation, and the Uranium One deal during the Obama Administration. In other words, there is more than enough fuel to keep this story going for another year, no matter what supporters of the President may say.
8. Get ready for the 2018 mid-term elections. Democrats fully believe they can flip both the House and Senate in this year's elections, and most of the legislative tussling on Capitol Hill in coming months should be framed by the November elections. What we saw in 2017 was a big surge for Democratic turnout, and a slump in Republicans going to the polls - Alabama's Senate race is a perfect example. Poll after poll has shown an edge in the "generic ballot" for Congress, giving Democrats a double digit advantage, which should translate into large gains. A lot can still happen between now and November, but the conventional wisdom is that 2018 will be an uphill fight for Republicans in Congress, and President Trump. We'll see if that pans out, or not.
9. New Year begins with rising anger at press - from Democrats. One of the growing stories in recent months has been the growing discontent on the political left against the press. We already know the President believes there is a lot of "Fake News" written about him and his administration, a familiar talking point for Republicans. But now, more and more Democratic activists are joining the attacks on the press - their reasoning is a little different - as they feel the news media isn't being tough enough on the President. The focus of many of those feelings is the New York Times, which broke the Hillary Clinton email story, something that her backers feel should never have been a story worth a newspaper's ink. One side thinks we are too tough on President Trump. The other side thinks we aren't tough enough on President Trump. Here's an example from Brian Fallon, who was the national press secretary for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign.
10. Presidential golf was bad, then it was good. Let's establish one thing at the top - I am all for Presidents playing golf. I love the game of golf, and I think it's a great way for a President to get out of the White House and relax. But let's be honest. Even before he was a candidate for President - and then repeatedly during the 2016 campaign - Donald Trump ridiculed President Barack Obama for playing golf, instead of working on problems in Washington. "While our wonderful president was out playing golf all day, the TSA is falling apart, just like our government!" Mr. Trump tweeted in 2016. During 2009, Mr. Obama played golf 27 times in his first year in office - in 2017, Mr. Trump more than tripled that. On his recent trip to his Florida retreat at Mar-a-Lago, the President played golf nine of the ten days he was gone from the White House. At this pace, Mr. Trump might play more golf in just four years than Mr. Obama played in eight years. President Trump probably won't catch Woodrow Wilson, who played an estimated 1,200 rounds while President - but the second place figure of Dwight Eisenhower (over 800 rounds) could be within reach. One thing of note that changed a bit this past week - the White House several times made public who was playing golf with Mr. Trump. That information was rarely disclosed in 2017.
Stay tuned. 2018 should be a busy year in U.S. politics.
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