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OPINION

How Trump could notch some political success

By CARL P. LEUBSDORF | The Dallas Morning News | Published: October 27, 2017

With rare exceptions, President Donald Trump has refused to reach out to opposition lawmakers and voters to build a governing coalition that would bolster his prospects for passing his prime proposals.

He has paid a political price, exacerbating the existing partisan atmosphere, diminishing his own standing and forcing his congressional Republican allies to rely totally on their own, sometimes divided troops in a way that has proved challenging.

Though partisan tension continues to be high, as evidenced by last week’s flap over Trump’s words to the wife of a fallen American hero, the president now has several chances to enlist support beyond his political base.

One is to support firmly and consistently the bipartisan plan to stabilize the health care system, a proposal he has both encouraged and questioned. A second would be to resist efforts to undermine legislation to give permanent status to so-called Dreamers, the young illegal residents whose families brought them to the United States as small children.

And a third would be to keep pressing fellow Republicans to ensure the forthcoming tax cut legislation provides its main benefits to middle-income Americans rather than to corporations and the wealthiest taxpayers.

But in all three instances, Trump needs to stand up to the more aggressively conservative members of his own party whose views he has too often embraced, undercutting the theory that he would be a pragmatic, nonideological president.

On health care, Trump suggested after the repeated failed efforts to “repeal and replace” “Obamacare” that he was open to a bipartisan effort to ease the problems stemming from both the Affordable Care Act’s inherent shortcomings and his own efforts to undercut its effectiveness.

In a single day, he both embraced and rejected a bipartisan bill painstakingly crafted by Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee, and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, of Washington, and endorsed by enough GOP senators to ensure the required 60 votes for Senate passage.

At the same time, officials of his own administration have been trying to sabotage the measure by adding anti-Obamacare provisions that threaten its support from Senate Democrats.

House Republican leaders, reflecting the power of the Freedom Caucus, are also resisting the measure, though Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer was probably right when he said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” a bipartisan majority exists to pass it in both houses.

Trump could resolve the situation by firmly supporting the Alexander-Murray bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday.

“I’ll be happy to bring a bill to the floor, if I know President Trump will sign it,” McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Trump has similarly complicated passage of legislation protecting the nearly 800,000 Dreamers after his own administration threatened their status by announcing it would end President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program within six months.

Trump said he favors protecting those young people, most of whom are pursuing higher education, serving in the military or holding secure jobs. But he has increasingly talked of linking his promise with controversial immigration proposals that are anathema to the Democrats, notably funds for the controversial wall designed to halt illegal immigration from Mexico.

Like with the proposed Obamacare fix, a bipartisan majority probably exists in both houses to protect the DACA recipients. But it can’t express itself if GOP congressional leaders won’t schedule a vote.

In both areas, Republicans are undoubtedly looking over their shoulders at Steve Bannon and the threats by the leading GOP bomb-throwers to back more aggressively conservative rivals against incumbent Republican senators. Given Trump’s continuing strong support among Republicans, it’s a legitimate concern.

The third issue facing Trump, how to distribute the benefits of a tax cut bill, should be a no-brainer. Many who would benefit from legislation that favors the middle class are among the swing voters who backed him but would be top targets for Democrats seeking to reverse recent Republican success. These same voters are among those threatened by GOP-backed health proposals to slash Medicaid funding and eliminate protection for those with pre-existing disabilities.

Failure to provide them with tangible benefits from the pending tax cut bill could make it more difficult for Trump and other Republicans to retain their support. Trump’s tweet opposing curbing 401(k) contributions indicates he understands this.

Unfortunately, Trump has given little indication he has the knowledge and the flexibility to resist the pressures within his party and his own administration to continue the self-defeating policy of rejecting compromises that would benefit both his standing and the country.

As a result, prospects for stabilizing the health system and protecting the Dreamers remain in doubt, even though polls show most Americans favor them.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is a former Washington bureau chief of The Dallas Morning News.

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