Trump’s Next Challenge: Empowered, Emboldened Democrats
As President Trump prepares to re-enter the world stage at the G-20 summit in Argentina, allies and adversaries alike will be taking stock of the president’s new domestic challenges in the coming year. These include Democratic control of the House of Representatives, the potential for numerous oversight investigations and the long-awaited end of the Russia probe being led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Foremost on the president’s mind, however, is his re-election bid in 2020. Trump provided some hints as to his strategy for re-election during his recent campaign stops for Republican Senator-elect Cindy Hyde-Smith.
“Under Republican leadership America is booming, America is thriving and America is winning again, winning like never before,” Trump told Republican supporters at a rally in Tupelo, Mississippi. “We are respected again. We are respected again as a nation.”
New balance of power
But Trump faces a new reality in January when Democrats assume control of the House of Representatives as a result of the recent midterm elections, where they gained nearly 40 House seats.
After two years of unified Republican government in Washington between the White House and Capitol Hill, opposition Democrats will be an immovable part of the mix.
“The American people voted for a change,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer. “They voted for a check on President Trump and a Congress that would stop Trump from trying to take away their health care. And after two long years that is what they will get.”
Analyst John Fortier told VOA that Trump’s new challenge will be adjusting to the shifting balance of power in Washington.
“Democrats will be in charge of the House of Representatives and will be able to investigate the president in a way that they haven’t being in the minority,” said Fortier, who is with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington. “That will allow them a platform to really highlight the differences with the president on a number of issues.”
Prospects for cooperation
Some Democrats may be open to trying to find common ground to work with the president on issues like infrastructure improvement. But Trump’s confrontational political style remains a major complication, said Jim Kessler of the center-left policy group Third Way.
“It raises the price of whatever deal he wants to seek with Democrats. So, if he wants a deal, he is going to have to act like someone who actually wants to deal, not someone who just wants to fight and be the center of the circus.”
The great unknown for Trump and the rest of official Washington is what may come of the ongoing Russia probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller, which may be moving toward a conclusion.
Trump continues to blast the investigation as a "witch hunt", but the ultimate outcome of the probe remains a political and legal mystery.
“We don’t know what Mueller has. We don’t know when he is going to drop (release) it,” said Brookings Institution’s Elaine Kamarck. “We don’t know if next week we are going to open the papers and see, you know, 15 more indictments. And that is what is hanging over this administration.”
Trump and his Republican allies in the House remain on the offensive that the Mueller probe is unfair and has produced no evidence of collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia.
But a recent poll by Hart Associates found that 76 percent of those surveyed believe Mueller should be allowed to complete his investigation, while 24 percent favor its termination.
Supporters of finishing the probe included 94 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of independents and 55 percent of Republicans in the poll.
Looking ahead to the next Congress, Trump can take some comfort from Tuesday’s victory by Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith in a Mississippi Senate race that now leaves Republicans with an expanded 53 to 47 seat majority in the Senate for the next two years.
But looking ahead to 2020, the president has to be concerned about his approval rating. The overall average, according to RealClear Politics, shows the president at 43 percent approval, 53 percent disapproval.
In the latest weekly Gallup Poll, Trump’s approval fell to 38 percent from 43 percent the previous week. His disapproval rate rose to 60 percent.
Trump and Republicans in Congress also have to be concerned about this year’s midterm results that showed a lot of suburban women supporting Democratic candidates, especially in key states Trump needs to win again in 2020 like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.