White House plots busy week before 100-day milestone

President Donald Trump speaks to Associated Press Chief White House Correspondent Julie Pace in the Oval Office in Washington, Friday, April 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

At midnight on Friday, President Donald Trump faces two deadlines: one legislative and the other largely symbolic.

When Congress returns from a two-week recess Tuesday, the clock will be ticking down to a potential government shutdown Friday and lawmakers say Trump’s priorities may be the biggest obstacles to reaching an agreement.

“Before, the parties were negotiating quite well, until Donald Trump and the White House threw a monkey wrench into it,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said during a conference call Monday.

Democrats are pushing back against the administration’s insistence that initial funding for a wall on the Mexican border be included in a continuing resolution. In addition to questioning the practicality, effectiveness, and morality of the wall, they also point to Trump’s frequent campaign trail promise that Mexico would pay for it.

Trump maintained on Twitter that Mexico would eventually pay the U.S. back, but Democrats remain unconvinced and unwilling to shell out over $1 billion in taxpayer dollars based on that claim. The White House has not taken a clear position on whether Trump would veto a resolution that does not include money for the wall.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer danced around the question Monday, telling reporters that Trump’s priorities in budget negotiations are military funding and border security, leaving some wiggle room to declare victory even if dedicated wall funding is not included.

With Republicans in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, foisting blame upon the Democrats for a shutdown could be a hard sell, even if Trump uses Twitter to lay the groundwork this week.

Meanwhile, the president and his aides are launching a full-court press to convince the public that his first 100 days in office have been an unparalleled success. Trump plans to mark the milestone with a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday.

Between now and then, the White House will be highlighting accomplishments like seating a Supreme Court justice and rolling back Obama-era regulations and taking public steps toward keeping more of his campaign promises.

According to political consultant Gary Nordlinger, little Trump does this week to embellish his 100-day performance will shift the public’s opinion on a deeply polarizing presidency.

“The attitudes on Trump are so firm and certain, it just doesn’t change anyone’s minds at this point,” he said.

Democrats who despise Trump are reticent to give him credit even when things go well, and the anti-Trump resistance remains fierce and active. His supporters are equally devoted.

“If you’re the people that strongly approve of Donald Trump, you think he’s had a great 100 days,” Nordlinger said.

Trump declared the media’s focus on the 100-day timeline “ridiculous” over the weekend.

“I think the 100 days is, you know, it's an artificial barrier,” he told the Associated Press in an interview. “It's not very meaningful.”

The president reinforced that artificial barrier with a “Contract with the American Voter” last fall in which he promised specific actions within his first 100 days. He has accomplished a few of the listed goals, but he has made no progress or reversed himself completely on others.

“Trump himself laid out a very clear, very concise metric by which to judge the success of his first 100-days: his own words,” said Matt McDermott, a Democratic strategist.

By that standard, particularly the list of ten legislative matters Trump planned to address, relatively little has been done.

“It's no surprise a majority of Americans now believe that Trump is failing to keep his promises and see him as dishonest,” McDermott said. “He's reneging on the very promises that got him elected.”

According to Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak, host of the "Mack on Politics" podcast, the 100-day thing matters more to the press than the average voter, but Trump is haunted by his own grandiose promises of progress.

“He was a bit naïve at the time about how difficult it is to move a legislative agenda even under normal circumstances,” he said.

He noted that other presidents have struggled in the early days as well, including Bill Clinton.

“There’s a tendency to evaluate the present as if the past never occurred,” he said, though he added that Trump’s flurry of executive orders and appointments will not satisfy the public for long.

With the threat of a shutdown looming and negotiations hampered by Democratic opposition to Trump’s wall, the White House aims to put even more on legislators’ plates. The administration continues to pressure Republicans in Congress to act on the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, despite the GOP alternative’s failure to reach the House floor for a vote last month.

There were reports late last week that the White House wanted a House vote by Friday on a revised version of the American Health Care Act that would be more amenable to the conservative Freedom Caucus. However, public comments by Trump and top aides over the weekend indicated they were backing off of that accelerated timeline.

Regardless of White House demands, Nordlinger doubts congressional Republicans have the appetite to revive that debate while trying to keep the government open.

“I honestly think that the congressional leadership of both parties are so focused on coming up with a budget compromise that they’ll stay focused on that,” he said.

Despite the desire of some in the White House to get a deal on health care, Mackowiak expects budget negotiations to remain at the forefront in Congress this week and an agreement that includes “something where both sides can say they didn’t give in.”

“There’s a lot of question marks and it seems to me the administration isn’t always on the same page regarding timelines,” he said.

Trump has also promised a big announcement this week on another top priority, tax reform. Officials have attempted to tamp down expectations that he will be unveiling anything more than general principles and possible tax rates.

Despite these major subjects presumably on the president’s mind, McDermott pointed out that Trump is already off-message on Twitter.

“Any reasonable person really has to question this president's priorities,” he said. “With only a few days until a government shutdown, Trump is once again taking to Twitter to relitigate the election results and spent much of the weekend inappropriately getting himself involved in the French elections.”

The president’s calendar for this pivotal week is also packed with executive orders to be signed on environmental policy and other issues. The White House has begun touting Trump’s record of signing the most executive orders in the first 100 days since World War II.

Orders expected this week will address offshore drilling, Antiquities Act designation, accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and reviewing federal agencies’ cyber defenses.

Trump has additional public appearances throughout the week. He will deliver an address at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Days of Remembrance Ceremony at the Capitol on Tuesday. On Friday, he will travel to Atlanta to speak at the National Rifle Association Leadership Forum.

Cabinet members are traveling the country to meet with people affected by their policies and promote their progress. Top officials will also brief members of the Senate on North Korea at the White House Wednesday.

In addition to his 100th day in office and the potential first day of a government shutdown, Trump’s rally on Saturday coincides with the White House Correspondents Dinner, an annual event that previous presidents have traditionally attended. Citing his fraught relationship with the press corps he has called the enemies of the American people, Trump and his aides had said they would not participate.

Instead, Trump will be speaking at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center in Harrisburg.

“It seems hard to believe it’s a coincidence,” Nordlinger said of the timing.

Mackowiak sees it as “counter-programming.” Trump likely relishes “the split-screen of a bunch of rich people in tuxes in a ballroom in Washington and him at a rally in rural America.”

Rallies are important to Trump because the crowds energize him and remind him that he and his policies have more support than it often seems in Washington.

“I think that he will talk about what they’ve done already and what they want to do going forward,” Mackowiak said.

While rally attendees will almost certainly approve of the president’s performance in the first 100 days, polls indicate he faces an uphill climb in impressing the rest of the country.

Trump is the only president in recent history to enter his 100th day with an approval rating below 50 percent, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll that put him at 42 percent. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found 40 percent approve.

“Seventy-five percent of people in this country think he can do no right or no wrong, Nordlinger said.

The polls offered some positive numbers for Trump as well. Nearly all of his voters said they would not change their vote and he has a slight edge head-to-head over Hillary Clinton, who beat him in the popular vote count in November.

Nordlinger observed that, while Trump’s unfavorable numbers are historically low for a new president, he remains more popular than the current congressional leadership in either party.

The health care system, the tax system, and other important matters hang in the balance this week, but Nordlinger said there is one measure by which Trump will be evaluated by the public next Monday morning.

“Keeping the federal government open means it’s a successful week,” he said.

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