Trump’s America: What’s Next in Washington?

With the holidays approaching and the Inauguration just around the corner, the uncertainty that once surrounded Candidate Trump’s campaign has shifted to speculation about how President Trump will govern, with policy makers, political experts, and businesses wondering: What’s next?

To help answer that question, Edelman convened a bipartisan panel of former Senators – the Hon. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Hon. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) – to speak with CBS News correspondent Julianna Goldman about how a Trump Administration and Republican-controlled Congress will change the policy landscape in 2017, and for years to come.

From infrastructure to immigration, former Senators Chambliss and Dorgan discussed their predictions for the first 100 days of Trump’s America, including:

  • The battle over Trump’s Supreme Court Justice nominees and cabinet appointee hearings could easily consume the first six months of the administration.
  • Republicans and Democrats – led by Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) – will work together on bipartisan issues such as infrastructure and tax reform.
  • Congress will move towards repealing the Affordable Care Act, but delay implementation of any major changes.
  • President Trump will continue to press American companies to keep jobs in the United States, but recognize the need for strong trading relationships with countries like Mexico and Canada.
  • There will be a lot of pressure to define a clear strategy for the situations in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • The administration will begin to address major issues within immigration policy, rather than diving into comprehensive immigration reform.

A full transcript of the event can be found here, and below we’ve included several highlights from their discussion.

Q: When you look at the next six months, what do you see as the top priorities of President-elect Trump and his administration?

Hon. Byron Dorgan: The Supreme Court battle will begin very quickly and the President-elect will send a name to the Senate. It’s going to cause a lot of consternation, a lot of discussion. Then I think they’ll quickly move on an infrastructure bill, tax reform and trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act – but you can’t repeal that quickly. I think they’ll do something that says, “We’ve moved us towards repeal, but we’re going to attempt to delay the consequences if it for probably two to three years.”

And in the middle of all this, we have a President-elect who has commanded the front page of the paper with his tweets. He’s going to chart the conversation in this country with his phone. I don’t think he will ever forgo that ability to communicate in such a powerful way.

Hon: Saxby Chambliss: This is going to be an interesting first 100 days for the administration. I can’t remember a Supreme Court nominee hanging in the breeze like this one. Once you have a Supreme Court nominee, everyone is going to be focused on it and I think it’ll certainly dominate the first six months. And at the same time you’ve got the Cabinet appointees that must be confirmed.

There’s going to be much excitement and enthusiasm in the Senate – and if the President-elect takes advantage of this energy in the right way there’s cause for opportunity and hope.

Q: Where do Democrats have a big incentive to work with Republicans?

Chambliss: There are certain issues that Chuck Schumer (D-NY; Senate minority leader) is just as interested in as Mitch McConnell (R-KY; Senate majority leader). I think the opportunity for a better relationship is possible with these two in leadership, which bodes well for the business community.

Issues of infrastructure, healthcare or tax reform have been at the forefront of the conversation on both sides of the aisle. There may be a difference of opinion as to how you deal with these issues, and there’s going to have to be compromise in order to get real, meaningful legislation.

Dorgan: There’s so much to do for our country. I have a friend that always says we are warmed by the fires we didn’t start, drink from the wells we didn’t dig and drive on the roads we didn’t build. We’re living on our parents’ and grandparents’ infrastructure, and we need to reinvest and rebuild – both political parties have a stake in wanting to do this. The two big questions here are how much does it cost and how are we going to pay for it?

We also desperately need tax reform, and that’s hard to do, but I have hope there will be some agreements between the two parties which will be good for the country. I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, but I want him to succeed. We only have one president and once the election’s over, we’re all in this together. I want him to succeed.

Q: Looking at the path for the Affordable Care Act, how should the healthcare industry be thinking about the next six months, year or two years?

Dorgan: The industry’s a little concerned because certainty is important to any business and we don’t have that right now. Insurance companies and hospitals will have to live with that uncertainty and try to navigate as best they can. We know that the new administration is going to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but it’s very hard to repeal, and portions of it may well be kept. For example, broad, mandated coverage is what allows us to do some of the things that everybody says they like, like pre-existing conditions and keeping kids on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26. It’s going to take a number of years to accomplish what they want to accomplish, so keep an eye on two things: Watch the 20 million people who are now covered under the Affordable Care Act and watch the people who are positively affected by Medicare expansion – those are going to be the really difficult speed bumps on the road to repeal.

Chambliss: I have to agree with Byron there – this is going to be hard. There is a popular sentiment in this country that we need to repeal Obamacare and I agree, major changes need to be made because it’s not working. We’ll take what’s good out of Obamacare and build on it, but it’s going to be really, really hard. Don’t expect it to get done in reconciliation this year.

Q: What industries do you think have the most to lose or gain in this next six months or year? Does the President-elect create a climate of uncertainty for business?

Chambliss: I think international companies that have headquarters or major presences in the United States are going to be beneficiaries. Look at what Trump did with Carrier. Without knowing what was discussed in that room the conversation was likely, “Look, I’m going to be President on January 20th and I’m going to immediately make changes in tax reform and regulatory reform and health care reform, which is going to make America a more receptive place for the business community.” But Byron is exactly right, how are you going to pay for an infrastructure bill, or for tax reform? There’s only so much money in bringing overseas profits back to the United States.

Defense companies and contractors are also going to do well. We’re not spending enough on defense, and there’s a big push to do it now. Because if you ask anybody about our strategy for Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan – from the Pentagon to the Hill – you don’t get the same answer, because we don’t have a strategy. It’s going to have to be developed by this administration, and that’s going to involve more spending in the defense community.

Dorgan: Well, there will be pushback on that, because a good number of people in Congress don’t want to increase defense spending and want to take the Department of Defense outside of the harm that comes from sequestration. But there are many, many others in Congress who are just as concerned on the domestic discretionary side.

President-elect Trump won because the people wanted change, and he was the agent of change, in my judgement. The change, in significant ways, means less regulation. I think ultimately business is going to be unsettled, because of uncertainty. What does he mean by regulatory reform? What kind of tax changes? Can we get an infrastructure bill? And so on…but there’s going to be some creative tension on these issues of reforming the tax code and addressing regulations in a more productive way.

Q: President-elect Trump has promised a crackdown on companies that ship jobs overseas, but what can he do when it comes to tariffs and trade agreements?

Dorgan: If you’re going to sell something in our marketplace, there’s got to be some admission price to the marketplace. Donald Trump is moving in that direction. His own caucus in the House and the Senate, the Republican caucus, will have some heart palpitations about that. They ought to work through it to try to figure out what he’s doing but I think his message falls pretty comfortably on the shoulders of most Americans saying, “We really would like somebody to stand up for jobs here at home, to the extent we can, but we don’t want to upset the apple cart on our trading relationships around the world either.” So, let’s do it and do it the smart way.

Chambliss: On the issue of trade, I think there’s going to come a point in his Administration, it would be early on, that there’s going to have to be some sort of epiphany on the part of the powers that be because our economy is based on trade.  We lead the world on the issue of trade, whether its imports or exports, so something like TPP, something like NAFTA, he personally has heartburn over it.  They need to fix that heartburn quickly, and let’s move on.

He needs to get the situation with NAFTA solved in his mind. If it needs to be changed, change it, and let’s move on here. We can’t fool around with our two largest trading partners and think that our economy is going to benefit from it. Canada and Mexico are integrally important to the economy of the United States and our trade needs to grow, not be restricted in any way. So, the issue of trade, again, needs to be at the very forefront here.

Issues aside, both Senators Chambliss and Dorgan agreed that we’re in for an extremely unconventional administration under Donald Trump. Stay tuned for more as we follow how a Trump Administration and the 115th Congress shape the policy landscape in the coming year.

Matt Wagner is chair of U.S. Public Affairs.