Skip to content

Trump Executive Actions Put Leaders on the Spot

In twist, Democrats cheer TPP-killing move as Republicans squirm

Donald Trump greets President Barack Obama moments before his swearing-in as the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Donald Trump greets President Barack Obama moments before his swearing-in as the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Donald Trump began unraveling major parts of his predecessor’s legacy on Monday, but some of his first proclamations and actions as president immediately put him at odds with his own party’s congressional leaders.

The new president mingled Monday evening with Republican and Democratic leaders in the White House’s ornate State Dining Room, the kind of social event Barack Obama rarely hosted at the executive mansion.

The rain that poured outside, offered a metaphor of a possibly stormy relationship between Trump and congressional brass, including the top Republicans in the House and Senate. Here are four top issues on which Trump and GOP leaders soon could collide:

Trade tussle

Earlier in the day, the 45th chief executive signed an executive memorandum that withdrew the United States from Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with Pacific-Rim countries. Trump fulfilled a major campaign trail promise — candidate Trump had dubbed TPP “a potential disaster for our country” — but he also drew the ire of some prominent members of the GOP, which has for decades prided itself as the party of free trade.

[White House Watch: Takeaways from Trump’s Inaugural Address]

Seated behind the famed Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, Trump called his move to withdraw from the Asian-Pacific trade deal a “great thing for the American worker.” But members of his party seemed skeptical, and not just because they rarely look to do a solid for union leaders, who have lobbied hard to kill the pact.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement Monday the decision to withdraw America from the agreement is a “serious mistake” that will reduce U.S. sway over trade rules in Asia and U.S. influence in that region, all to China’s benefit.

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, and Trade Subcommittee Chairman Dave Reichert, R-Wash., urged Trump to not kill TPP. Brady and Reichert said, in separate statements, that strong TPP provisions should be retained, while weaker segments renegotiated.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., issued a statement hailing two other memos Trump signed, but there was no mention of the trade pact. He did, however, applaud Trump for pursuing his pledge to seek “better trade agreements.”

One longtime Republican Trump critic found a way to remind the president the party is pro-free trade without directly criticizing Trump.

“It’s clear that those of us who believe trade is good for American families have done a terrible job defending trade’s historic successes and celebrating its future potential,” Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said in a statement. “We have to make the arguments and we have to start now.”

In a twist, as Republicans squirmed at the death of Obama’s deal, members of the former president’s own party took a victory lap.

“President Trump will notice that thanks to largely Democratic and steadfast opposition to enacting a job-killing trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership never became law in the United States,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said Obama’s proposed agreement “would have allowed the use of taxpayer dollars to hire foreign companies.”

“TPP also gives foreign companies the ability to challenge American laws in secret international courts, encouraging companies to move production abroad,” she said.

A flurry of other Democrats in both chambers, particularly from the Rust Belt, followed suit.

Border (tax) battle

Trump told business leaders over breakfast at the White House Monday morning that he intends to propose a tax on items made by American firms at factories in other countries if they move production of those goods overseas.

The new president, in doing so, essentially issued a warning to Ryan. That’s because the speaker, shortly before Inauguration Day, said he has no interest in doing so.

“We’re not going to be raising tariffs,” Ryan said during a Jan. 4 radio interview. The speaker also said “the secret” to getting businesses to stay in the country is to level the playing field on taxes.

Trump on Monday told business leaders he intends to do just that, as well as saying his administration will “expedite” federal decisions on building new factories on U.S. soil.

Trump vs. hawks

Several senior Republicans who favor U.S. interventionism around the world seemed disinterested just hours after he was sworn in on Friday in discussing the new president’s emerging foreign policy.

Among them was Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who told Roll Call when asked about the national security and foreign policy parts of Trump’s inaugural address he thought “it was a good speech.” But Corker appeared in no mood to dive deeper, hurrying toward a Senate subway car before saying: “We’ll just see how things progress.”

McCain rolled his eyes when asked about the president’s inward-looking inaugural address, which some experts say basically called for a period of American isolationism.

The speech put the 45th commander in chief at odds with McCain on just about everything but Trump’s call to “eradicate” Islamic extremist groups “completely from the face of the Earth.”

[President Trump: ‘From This Day Forward … Only America First’]

McCain declined to talk specifics. Instead, he simply kept repeating that he “can only” focus on Trump’s selection of two retired Marine generals, James “Mad Dog” Mattis and John Kelly, to be his Defense and Homeland Security secretaries, respectively.

Swamp things 

While he was still president-elect, Trump’s team said he would put in place a five-year lobbying ban on former Trump administration officials. Trump himself said he will install a “lifetime ban on executive officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government.” It’s part of his campaign pledge to “drain the swamp,” a folksy way of referring to Washington’s so-called revolving door that sees Beltway insiders bounce from job to job on K Street, Capitol Hill and at federal agencies.

Ryan, answering a question on Jan. 12 about whether he would support a five-year lobbying ban for members of Congress and a constitutional amendment to institute congressional term limits — which Trump supports — confirmed his continuing support for term limits but expressed concern about extending the lobbying ban. “I think that’s dangerous,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Ryan said there are unforeseen circumstances of the lobbying ban, like a member who wants to become an advocate for a cancer society or hospital board. “What’s wrong with them going out and advocating for causes they believe in?” Ryan said.

Lindsey McPherson and Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this story.

Recent Stories

After a ‘rough’ start, Sen. Fetterman opens up about his mental health journey

Supreme Court enters crunch time for term loaded with big issues

Biden shifts from defending his record to warning about Trump

As heat waves intensify, so does criticism of government support

Supreme Court tees up case on state youth transgender care ban

Rail safety legislation lingers as NTSB wraps East Palestine probe