This year, Trump is both the unifying force and the unifying challenge—a president, finally, who is ready to sign Republican priorities into law but one who is also driven by conflict, improvisation, and his own prized policies. Lawmakers arrived in Philadelphia ready to trumpet the party’s agenda only to confront reporters demanding their reaction to the president’s flurry of tweets and executive orders. “I haven’t seen the proposal yet,” Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers said at one point, in a statement that seemed to apply equally to Trump’s order on immigration, his call for an investigation into voter fraud, and his reported plan to revive CIA “black sites” and the use of torture.
Trump won’t speak to congressional Republicans until Thursday, but his presence greeted them when they arrived, in the form of socks with the president’s likeness that lawmakers reportedly found in their hotel gift bags, according to Politico. And as Ryan made clear in his presentation, Trump is quickly exerting his influence on the party’s agenda. According to two Republicans in the room, the speaker told lawmakers that when he presented his plan to prioritize healthcare legislation, tax reform, and the repeal of regulations in the administration’s first 200 days, Trump signed off on the agenda but made one request: He wanted Congress to pass his infrastructure plan as well.
The ask was significant, because Trump’s call to spend as much as $1 trillion to rebuild roads, bridges, and airports has generated little enthusiasm among conservatives, who are worried it will mimic the Obama administration’s stimulus bill they assailed as a boondoggle.
“The impression I got was that the speaker recognizes the importance of that to the president and that it is now part of our 200-day plan,” said Representative Chris Collins of New York, a member of the president’s transition team. “Without the president’s input,” Collins said, infrastructure would not have made the list.
Just before the meeting, Senator John Thune, the third-ranking Republican in the upper chamber, ticked off a list of items to reporters that notably omitted a major infrastructure bill. “Right now, we’ve got a very focused agenda, things that we want to get done in the next 200 days,” Thune said. “How infrastructure plays into that we’re not sure yet.”
There’s a broader consensus on the rest of the party wish-list—at least in principle. Lawmakers said the party hoped to approve legislation repealing Obamacare by April as part of a budget reconciliation package that can pass the Senate with a simple majority rather than a filibuster-proof 60 votes. That bill, Representative Diane Black of Tennessee said, would also include part of the GOP’s replacement plan for the law. Next up would be a tax overhaul, which Republicans hope to pass by the beginning of August. Collins said there are also plans for a supplemental appropriations bill to pay for the Southern border wall—for which, of course, Trump will be demanding reimbursement from Mexico. And the House next week will begin passing legislation under the Congressional Review Act to undo major regulations enacted in the final months of the Obama administration.