By Kate Ackley and Zach C. Cohen
January 30, 2024
Sticking to campaign talking points, Trump blasts border plans
Former president may dominate House GOP agenda this year
Donald Trump hasn’t waited to formally secure the GOP presidential nomination before telling House and Senate Republicans how to do their legislating.
His influence over the party’s agenda on Capitol Hill will get a crucial test this week, as senators from both parties seek to move on an immigration-border policy deal and as House members eye a vote on a bipartisan tax package. Trump, digging into one of his top campaign talking points, attacked the emerging border measure again Monday saying it was unnecessary.
As campaigner in chief, Trump’s demands to congressional Republicans also will overshadow government funding debates and the rest of the Hill agenda.
Those inside and outside Congress, including lobbyists, will have to contend with that uncertainty potentially for the remainder of the year.
“As he gets closer and closer to being the sole nominee, I would expect a more concerted effort for him to affect what’s happening in D.C. and to demonstrate that he himself is the leader of the Republican Party,” said lobbyist Mark Williams, a partner at Ferox Strategies and a former House GOP aide.
It makes for “a trickier political climate than I’ve seen in some time,” Williams said.
The border measure may presage an existential quandary for the rest of the year for Republicans who might otherwise be eager to negotiate: Do they work with Democrats on a legislative win to tout to constituents, or beg off on the bipartisan work needed to legislate in hopes of campaign talking points and a unified GOP government moving on more favorable legislation in 2025?
Sen. Steve Daines, the Montana Republican who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee this election cycle, praised the Trump administration’s handling of immigration policy, specifically curbing the number of migrants coming through the southern border.
“So he has every right to express his thoughts, his opinions on what needs to be done to secure the border, because he’s actually done it,” Daines said.
President Joe Biden reversed Trump’s policies “that were working,” Daines said.
Trump on Monday said on Truth Social that no new legislation was needed to limit the number of migrants at the southern border.
The former president’s standing among Senate Republicans will become clearer in the coming days. Senate Republicans have pushed back on GOP proposals that any border deal be scrapped until next year, arguing that ongoing negotiations secured more Democratic concessions than have been or could be secured in a Trump administration.
“If it is the right policy, then there are a lot of people who want to support it,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said. “We’ve got to drive hard, and if we can’t get there, go to Plan B.”
Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) agreed the Senate can do its own legislating. “We’re big boys and girls, we know what the policy needs to look like,” he said.
Republicans have also been eager to greenlight other aspects of the package, including aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, as border talks have dragged.
“For our own self-defense, we should be moving forward with the supplemental,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (Iowa), a member of Republican leadership.
Trump’s push to derail talks could also backfire politically on the GOP. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused some Republicans of “taking cues from Donald Trump” at the expense of passing legislative reforms Republicans themselves have sought.
“These hard-right saboteurs talk on and on about the need to fix the border, but now they don’t actually want to see a bipartisan solution on the border—which is the only kind of solution, of course, that can pass,” Schumer said.
Trump’s sway appears stronger in the GOP-controlled House.
If he’s the nominee by the March government funding deadlines, House members, in particular, will follow his lead, said Ozzie Palomo, a Republican lobbyist who has supported Nikki Haley in the presidential primary.
A March budget deal would allow the Biden administration to avoid agency budget cuts sought by conservatives this summer, just as general-election campaigning kicks off.
Lawmakers will be “mindful” that legislative deals don’t “undermine the campaign,” or “inadvertently give Biden a victory,” Palomo said.
Though Trump has already worked publicly to exert his influence over the immigration measure, it’s not yet clear how much into the details of other issues he might go.
His positions will loom large, including on a tax package that House Ways and Means Chairman Jason Smith (R-Mo.) worked out with Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Some Republicans are hesitant to sign off on legislation that could see bigger tax refund checks go out in the mail to families ahead of the fall elections.
BGOV Bill Summary: H.R. 7024, Bipartisan Tax Package | BGOV OnPoint: Lawmakers Unveil Bipartisan Tax Package
“There are already landmines out there as it pertains to the tax bill,” Williams said. Trump could add even “more obstacles.”
David Urban, a Republican lobbyist who served as a senior adviser to the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, said immigration policy has long been a signature issue for the ex-president and would be part of his campaign platform this year.
But, he said, he expects it’s less likely that Trump would get into the weeds on some matters, such as an annual defense authorization.
“I think it’s issue by issue,” said Urban, a managing director at BGR Group.
House Republicans, though, will be sensitive to Trump’s views on any issues because of the former president’s popularity among their voters, Urban noted.
“I don’t think anything’s going to be forced upon them that they’re not already hearing back home,” he said.