One senior House Republican says GOP members simply need to “get to know” President-elect Donald Trump before fully embracing his policy agenda. But as the new Congress kicks off, even Republicans must sift through the contradictions between Trump’s words and actions.
Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a House GOP deputy whip, told Roll Call he sees Vice President-elect Mike Pence as playing an “exceedingly important” role in the new administration because, among other things, he “will help us get to know the president-elect better.” To the veteran legislator, that will help the House Republican caucus better understand the 45th president’s plans.
And, to be sure, the direction that the bombastic businessman and former reality television host intends to take the country is often murky.
For instance, Trump ran on establishing cozier relations with Moscow and continues to cast doubt on an intelligence community finding that the Kremlin intentionally meddled in the U.S. election on his behalf. Yet, he also late last month seemed to challenge Russian President Vladimir Putin — and any other country that wants to join — to a nuclear arms race.
Trump’s policy contradictions don’t end there. From seemingly opposite views on debt than those of his pick to be director of the Office of Management and Budget to his campaign broadsides on military generals turned love affair — and more — no one seems to know what to expect after Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20.
When asked on Dec. 29 to clarify conclusions by experts that those selected for top administration jobs (and those still under consideration) seem to hold different views on trade than the president-elect, incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said all Cabinet-level selections would be charged with “implementing a Trump agenda” rather than their own.
‘King of Debt’
Last May, candidate Trump described himself as “the king of debt.” But he wasn’t finished expressing his affection for borrowed money: “I love debt.”
What’s notable about the comments is they didn’t just come from a real estate mogul who raises funds for projects. They came from the then-front-runner for the Republican nomination for president, despite a powerful faction of the party’s Washington delegation having been obsessed with shrinking the country’s debt and deficits for over a decade.
Consider Trump’s costly plans to rebuild America’s infrastructure, ramp up defense spending, erect and patrol a massive southern border wall and create a deportation force. The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has concluded that the president-elect’s proposals “would increase the debt by $5.3 trillion.” What’s more, the group also found that under Trump’s set of plans, “debt would rise to … 105 percent” of GDP within a decade.
Given his pro-debt stance and big-spending proposals, perhaps the greatest of all Trump’s contradictions is his pick of debt-and-deficits crusader, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, as director of the Office of Management and Budget.
At first glance, the South Carolina Republican and the president-elect appear to clash philosophically. Mulvaney, for instance, has long argued for deep federal spending cuts and has voted against most debt and appropriations bills since joining the House in 2011. What’s more, he has said he sees talk of a U.S. default as a myth, if Congress opts against raising the debt ceiling in March. However, Cole said he expects Trump will soon dispatch Mulvaney to lobby members to raise the borrowing limit.
It’s on spending that Mulvaney could try to influence Trump and his team from the inside. The OMB director-designee is a member of the conservative, anti-spending House Freedom Caucus, a faction that could break with the new GOP president if they determine his infrastructure plans and other proposals would cost too much.
Across the Capitol, veteran Republican senators acknowledge that Trump’s plans contradict with the views of many in their caucus. “I hope we don’t do that,” one veteran GOP senator told Roll Call. “If we do, you and I both know a day of reckoning is coming.”
A general reversal
Candidate Trump was against the generals who commanded America’s post-9/11 wars.
“I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me,” he said during the campaign, referring to the Islamic State terrorist group.
Since the election, however, Trump picked retired three-star Army general, Michael Flynn, to be his national security adviser. Next, he nominated a retired four-star Marine Corps general, James “Mad Dog” Mattis, for Defense secretary, a position he could not hold without a special congressional waiver since he’s only been retired for about three years. He then selected retired Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly as his Homeland Security secretary.
Each held senior military positions key to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that Trump lamented on the campaign trail, something the incoming commander in chief has yet to explain.
As he meticulously picked his Cabinet and senior aides, Trump also met with other generals and admirals. The difference between the campaign-trail rhetoric and his actions since has some national security experts scratching their heads.
“A president needs to hear from a variety of opinions,” said Gordon Adams, a top Clinton administration national defense official. “He can’t rely solely on the military. … It’s not enough to simply say they’re all nice guys.”
“If any other country was doing this, putting so many generals in charge, what would the United States government — with a Republican or Democratic president — say?” Adams asked rhetorically. “We’d say publicly that we’re ‘seriously concerned’ and push the civilians to take control of their country.”