Off to Washington, where complex Congress awaits

From left: House Speaker Paul Ryan, future First Lady Melania Trump, President-elect Donald Trump, and vice-president-elect Mike Pence on the Speaker's Balcony at the Capitol building in Washington on Thursday.
From left: House Speaker Paul Ryan, future First Lady Melania Trump, President-elect Donald Trump, and vice-president-elect Mike Pence on the Speaker's Balcony at the Capitol building in Washington on Thursday.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON • Mr Donald Trump sought to turn over a new leaf with Republican leadership as he visited Congress on Thursday after an acrimonious campaign, but the president-elect could find himself at odds with lawmakers from the start on key issues.

Mr Trump managed a stunning victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in an election in which his hot rhetoric and pie-in-the-sky promises were the norm, but he will now need to operate within an institutional system where his legislative priorities need green lights from both chambers of Congress.

Mr Trump's path may be easier than expected when he takes office in January because his Republicans were able to maintain their majorities in both the House and the Senate, giving the Republicans full control of Congress and the White House for the first time since 2006.

After Thursday's meeting at the White House with President Barack Obama, Mr Trump held closed-door talks with House Speaker Paul Ryan in what many saw as a fence-mending mission after the two clashed bitterly in recent months and Mr Ryan refused to campaign with the nominee.

After lunch at the Capitol Hill Club, a Republican haunt a block from the Capitol, Mr Ryan invited Mr Trump to his office and the Speaker's Balcony on the Capitol's west front, which looks out across the National Mall toward the Washington Monument and the White House.

One senior Republican said on Wednesday that Mr Ryan is "about to become Donald's best friend in Congress". "He's still the indispensable guy," said Representative Tom Cole. "Whatever differences they had in the past, they each need one another to be successful. Trump needs somebody that can unite the Republican caucus and move things through. Obviously, Ryan needs someone who can sign something. We now have that."

Mr Trump said he and the Republican majority were going to accomplish "absolutely spectacular things for the American people". But he will have to tread lightly if he wants broad support. Several Republicans including a handful in the Senate openly opposed his presidential bid.

Mr Trump and his incoming vice-president Mike Pence met for an hour with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday, and Mr Trump highlighted three priorities for his new administration.

"We're going to look very strongly at immigration... at health care, and we're looking at jobs - big league jobs," he said afterward.

Mr Trump made building a border wall between the United States and Mexico and repealing Obamacare pillars of his presidential campaign. Mr McConnell has signalled interest in at least one of those. "It's a pretty high item on our agenda," Mr McConnell said of Obamacare on Wednesday.


But Mr McConnell did not mention the border wall, offering only that he wants "to achieve border security in whatever way is the most effective". They will likely back him on his push for lowering taxes, strengthening the military and tearing up several of Obama's executive orders on issues from immigration to energy and environmental regulations. They may not be as thrilled with Mr Trump's call for expanding infrastructure development, a longstanding Democratic priority.

There is already tension about Mr Trump's foreign policy pronouncements, including his openly questioning the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

Mr Trump's apparent cosiness with Russia and his stated admiration for President Vladimir Putin will also not sit well with Republicans who see the Kremlin as a longstanding adversary.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2016, with the headline 'Off to Washington, where complex Congress awaits'. Subscribe