Combat, Not Honeymoon, Would Await Clinton on Capitol Hill

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton campaigns in New Hampshire. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton campaigns in New Hampshire. Matt Rourke/AP

Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings is ready for war. Or, rather, Eli­jah Cum­mings is ready for more war.

The Mary­land law­maker, as top Demo­crat on the GOP-led com­mit­tees on Benghazi and Over­sight, spends lots of time par­ry­ing ag­gress­ive Re­pub­lic­an probes that are fo­cused dir­ectly or in­dir­ectly on Hil­lary Clin­ton.

If Clin­ton pre­vails over Don­ald Trump in the pres­id­en­tial race, Cum­mings says he’s not ex­pect­ing Cap­it­ol Hill Re­pub­lic­ans to give Clin­ton much, if any, of a hon­ey­moon peri­od to push her agenda in Con­gress.

“I think they are go­ing to do everything in their power to make her a one-term pres­id­ent,” Cum­mings tells Na­tion­al Journ­al. “No mat­ter what, I think that is go­ing to be the case.”

At most, he sees a “brief hon­ey­moon” for Clin­ton, not­ing that the polit­ics are dif­fer­ent than Obama’s ini­tial days.

“When Pres­id­ent Obama came in, we were sink­ing quickly, re­ces­sion-wise,” he said. “That ac­tu­ally put some wind in­to his sails, no doubt about it, be­cause we had to do something.”

In 2009, Obama, abet­ted by ma­jor­it­ies in both cham­bers, was able to quickly push stim­u­lus le­gis­la­tion through Con­gress, and then won sweep­ing fin­an­cial-re­form and health care le­gis­la­tion in his first two years. But then the GOP took con­trol of the House in 2010, and that was es­sen­tially the end of Obama’s ma­jor le­gis­lat­ive wins.

There are, need­less to say, plenty of vari­ables and un­knowns about the early days of a po­ten­tial Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Clin­ton’s abil­ity to get things done will ob­vi­ously de­pend on the strategies ad­op­ted by GOP lead­ers. Will Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell take a firm line against let­ting any of her pri­or­it­ies ad­vance? And will House Speak­er Paul Ry­an, who hasn’t ruled out a White House run in 2020, be will­ing to com­prom­ise even if it sul­lies his own brand among con­ser­vat­ives?

Ab­sent a huge elect­or­al wave in Novem­ber, Clin­ton would face a GOP-led House and, at best, a slim Sen­ate ma­jor­ity for Demo­crats. And un­like Obama, who en­joyed re­l­at­ively strong fa­vor­ab­il­ity rat­ings throughout his 2008 cam­paign, polling shows that Clin­ton is deeply un­pop­u­lar for a ma­jor-party nom­in­ee, al­beit not as dis­liked as Don­ald Trump.

Re­pub­lic­ans do not ap­pear in­ter­ested in ac­know­ledging a le­gis­lat­ive man­date for a hy­po­thet­ic­al Clin­ton pres­id­ency.

“I am not aware of her le­gis­lat­ive agenda,” said Sen. John Cornyn, the ma­jor­ity whip. He ad­ded: “We would work with who­ever is elec­ted pres­id­ent, wheth­er it is Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clin­ton where our prin­ciples and our in­terests align.”

Rep. Dar­rell Issa said that any can­did­ate hop­ing to come in with a “man­date” needs to have laid out a de­tailed agenda and made that the primary point of his or her cam­paign. So far, he said, neither Trump nor Clin­ton had done so.

Two early moves could test how much of a man­date that Re­pub­lic­ans are will­ing to re­cog­nize. One is GOP will­ing­ness to con­firm Clin­ton’s Su­preme Court nom­in­ee to re­place the late Ant­on­in Scalia (as­sum­ing that the GOP hasn’t backed off op­pos­i­tion to ap­prov­ing Obama’s pick, Mer­rick Gar­land, this year).

A second would be the re­ac­tion to the large in­fra­struc­ture pack­age that Clin­ton has vowed to try and steer through Con­gress quickly if elec­ted.

“I think that people think the first 120 days, we can do things,” Sen. Sher­rod Brown, an Ohio Demo­crat, told Na­tion­al Journ­al.

“If she starts off do­ing pub­lic works, in­fra­struc­ture, then that is something that we ought to be able to get the busi­ness com­munity on board, labor on board, both parties on board,” he said.

“Maybe things flow out of that. I think we have a real chance for tax re­form.”

Brown also ex­pressed op­tim­ism about col­lab­or­a­tion on the Bank­ing Com­mit­tee, wheth­er he re­mains rank­ing Demo­crat or as­sumes the chair­man­ship should Demo­crats re­gain Sen­ate con­trol.

GOP Sen. Susan Collins, who doesn’t back Trump or Clin­ton, is pess­im­ist­ic about the com­ing years.

“I think the next four years are go­ing to be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult no mat­ter who wins the race for pres­id­ent, be­cause our coun­try is so di­vided, and neither can­did­ate has ex­hib­ited an abil­ity to bring people to­geth­er,” she told Na­tion­al Journ­al. “So it is something I am really wor­ried about, giv­en the very ser­i­ous prob­lems that we have.”

Asked wheth­er Re­pub­lic­ans would see Clin­ton hav­ing a man­date after the elec­tion, GOP Rep. Tom Cole said it de­pends on the win­ner’s vic­tory mar­gin, but he ex­pects that neither Clin­ton nor Trump will get 50 per­cent of the vote.

“I ac­tu­ally think either of these can­did­ates is not go­ing to en­joy the kind of po­s­i­tion that Pres­id­ent Obama en­joyed in Janu­ary of 2009—su­per­ma­jor­it­ies in both cham­bers, a very sub­stan­tial pop­u­lar man­date, and a strong ap­prov­al rat­ing,” Cole said.

Co­oper­a­tion is not im­possible to ima­gine, even in a fam­ously par­tis­an en­vir­on­ment. Morn­ing Con­sult re­por­ted Wed­nes­day that some Re­pub­lic­ans—not­ably long­time Sen. Chuck Grass­ley— are open to work­ing with Clin­ton, if she wins, on fixes to Obama­care.

“As a prac­tic­al mat­ter, our Con­sti­tu­tion re­quires you to work with the pres­id­ent, even if you dis­agree with them,” Grass­ley told the pub­lic­a­tion.

Still, it’s doubt­ful that many of Grass­ley’s col­leagues feel the same way.

Eight years ago, GOP ef­forts to thwart Obama’s agenda hardened very early in his pres­id­ency, start­ing even be­fore it began, and Clin­ton will face a big chal­lenge in try­ing to change that dy­nam­ic, es­pe­cially giv­en that she moved to the left dur­ing the primary cam­paign.

On the bright side for Clin­ton, she has long­time ties to Cap­it­ol Hill that Obama did not en­joy when he took of­fice (though Obama’s vice pres­id­en­tial pick, former Sen. Joe Biden, cer­tainly did).

Demo­crat­ic Sen. Claire Mc­Caskill offered a glass-half-full as­sess­ment on the ques­tion of a hon­ey­moon or man­date for Clin­ton.

“I think that’s prob­ably not real­ist­ic. I don’t think either one of these can­did­ates could pos­sibly come in­to of­fice with a huge amount of polit­ic­al cap­it­al,” she said.

But Mc­Caskill ad­ded: “The dif­fer­ence is that [Clin­ton] has worked with Re­pub­lic­ans be­fore, and she is very good one-on-one work­ing with Re­pub­lic­ans and try­ing to find the sweet spot; she has done it suc­cess­fully on many oc­ca­sions, both as first lady and as sen­at­or and as sec­ret­ary of State.”

“She ac­tu­ally does play well with oth­ers, and I don’t think Don­ald Trump has ever played well with oth­ers,” she said.

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