Political relationships in Washington take work. And time. Each Congressional session lasts two years — and each president only has a guaranteed four years in the White House, which makes the first three-and-a-half months of the relationship crucial.
So what did the first 100 days of President Donald Trump and the 115th Congress show us?
They want to get along
It was just more than six months ago that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) decided he could no longer defend then-candidate Donald Trump. Around the same time, a handful of other GOP members of Congress openly called for Mr. Trump to step aside as presidential candidate. Fast forward to February, when Ryan openly praised Mr. Trump’s cabinet picks and called the president a “chairman … like other successful presidents.”
Up and down the GOP hierarchy in Congress, members have generally withheld their fire against the president and signaled they would like to get along. Senators have suspended rules to back Trump’s cabinet nominees, and criticized Democrats as obstructionists.
For his part, the president has reversed course as well, moving on from the time he thanked Ryan’s primary opponent to taking a glittering photo with the speaker on Inauguration Day Eve. He has also mounted a massive presidential charm offensive, with bowling, dinners and lunches.
But Trump and GOP leaders still have serious differences
Publicly, Congressional Republicans are trying to smooth over or flat-out ignore their differences with the White House. But they remain significant. Consider this list of top priorities in Trump’s first 100 days: the travel ban, the border wall, NAFTA and the president’s budget, including proposed cuts to foreign aid, cuts to the State Department and cuts to Appalachia. On each of those issues, Trump faces significant disagreement from Congress.
The White House wants respect
A strange thing happened this week. On Wednesday, 100 senators boarded buses at the Capitol to travel to the White House for a briefing on North Korea. This was highly unusual and, some senators said publicly, completely unnecessary; the briefing team planned to come to the Capitol later that same day to brief House members.
Whatever the exact reasons for the field trip, the visual message on the evening news was obvious: Senators had to go the White House, not vice versa. It was the latest evidence that Trump operates in a world where optics like this matter. One problem? The House and Senate each fiercely guard their status as equal branches of government, a dynamic that could lead to issues with the White House down the road.
Speaker Ryan does not comment on Trump’s tweets. But Ryan’s above-the-fray approach to Trump’s Twitter habits can’t hide the fact that when it comes to messaging, Trump regularly goes in his own direction — one that’s often opposite, or at least not in line with, Republicans in Congress.
That began just days ahead of the new Congress, when Trump tweeted his displeasure with a House GOP bill aimed at reshaping the chamber’s ethics review process. Or consider the health care collapse. Trump told Republicans that if a bill couldn’t get enough support, he would move on from the issue altogether.
The GOP moved on, for a few days, until the White House indicated it might want to work with Democrats instead. The back-and-forth has continued every week since, signaling that these types of messaging differences could become a basic feature of Trump’s relationship with Congress.
See more coverage of Trump’s first 100 days in office here.