Our thinking

Working with Congress

President-elect Trump will take office with the Republican Party fully in control of the executive and legislative branches of the federal government for the first time since 2007.

President-elect Trump will take office with the Republican Party fully in control of the executive and legislative branches of the federal government for the first time since 2007.

In the House of Representatives, Republicans retained control of 241 seats to the Democrats’ 193. Though Democrats appeared to be on the verge of wresting control of the Senate from the GOP earlier this month, that chamber remains with Republicans, who (as of this writing) will hold 51 seats in the 115th Congress.

Importance of rules and procedure

Although the president-elect will enter the Oval Office with Republican control of both houses of Congress, that control does not assure an easy or certain path for his legislative agenda. Because Republicans do not control the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster from Democrats in the Senate, Trump will need to work across the aisle to move his agenda forward in that chamber. He will also have to win over those members of his own party, including Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE), who publicly opposed the president-elect during the election. On the Democratic side of the aisle, Trump will face progressive stalwarts such as Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), who will use the Senate’s procedures—including the filibuster—to their advantage in an effort to protect Democratic priorities.

On hot-button issues such as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and tax reform, where a Democratic filibuster is almost certain to occur, the president-elect may turn to the budget reconciliation process in order to push his agenda through the Senate. Reconciliation is a procedure to fast-track certain tax, spending, and debt limit legislation. Reconciliation bills require only 51 votes to pass and cannot be filibustered. Republicans have successfully used reconciliation in the past, including in 1996 during the welfare reform debate, and in 2001 and 2003 to enact President’s Bush’s signature tax cuts.

Possible leadership realignment

In the House, Trump faces a different set of challenges, starting with whether to support current Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) for re-election as speaker. Conservatives in the Republican caucus, especially Trump allies angered by Ryan’s lukewarm support for their candidate, may jump at the opportunity to reject his bid for a second term if encouraged to do so by the president-elect.

Trump may also choose to deploy the vice president-elect as his emissary to House Republicans. A former member of House leadership, Vice President-elect Michael Pence enjoys a personal friendship with Speaker Ryan and could be helpful in ensuring coordination between the Oval Office and Capitol Hill, despite the president-elect’s and Speaker’s divergent governing styles.

These personal dynamics will play out alongside conversations about the Republican legislative agenda for next year, and how Republicans should capitalize on their control of the federal government. It is an open question whether President-elect Trump will push for passage of his own slate of campaign priorities or instead adopt the House Republican “A Better Way” agenda.

Style of governance. Indeed, the issues that Trump chooses to advance in his first 100 days will offer insight into how he plans to govern—whether he will seek out opportunities for bipartisanship (e.g., greater investment in infrastructure) or take a partisan stance on issues important to his political base (e.g., building a wall along the Mexican border), even if it means facing a Democratic filibuster in the Senate and seeing progress on his agenda slow to a crawl.

Trump may also find himself following President Obama’s playbook and governing through executive order to implement large swaths of his agenda if it becomes stalled in the Senate. Such orders are legally binding on federal departments and agencies, and are issued on the basis of enforcing existing law. The Obama administration has used executive orders to bring about change on issues as varied as climate change and environmental sustainability and protections against workforce discrimination. While Trump criticized Obama’s use of executive orders during the campaign, he has also pledged to use them himself.

Trump may also find himself following President Obama’s playbook and governing through executive order to implement large swaths of his agenda if it becomes stalled in the Senate. Such orders are legally binding on federal departments and agencies, and are issued on the basis of enforcing existing law. The Obama administration has used executive orders to bring about change on issues as varied as climate change and environmental sustainability and protections against workforce discrimination. While Trump criticized Obama’s use of executive orders during the campaign, he has also pledged to use them himself.