WASHINGTON — Halfway through his first term in office, President Donald Trump is confronting a new political landscape, one in which political analysts and lawmakers say he must navigate through a divided Congress, an emboldened Democratic Party and waning support among key voting blocs who helped carry him to victory in 2016.
Trump, who entered the Oval Office on Jan. 20, 2017, with Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress, is grappling with a U.S. House of Representatives controlled by Democrats who in large part view their midterm victories as a repudiation of Trump’s presidency.
House Democrats showcased their ability to derail Trump's legislative wishes during the recent government shutdown when they refused to cave to his demands that any deal to reopen the government include $5.7 billion in border wall funding. The president, responding to public pressure over the impasse, signed a temporary spending deal Jan. 25 devoid of wall funding.
In the second half of Trump’s first term, more legislative gridlock can be expected given “the almost complete shutdown in communication” between the president and lawmakers that was on display during the course of the shutdown, said Meena Bose, director of Hofstra University’s Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency.
“It's very difficult at this point to see how there can be bipartisan agreement on some really significant issues such as immigration, foreign policy and Supreme Court appointments,” Bose said.
While Trump delivered on several of his campaign pledges during his first two years in office, with the backing of congressional Republicans and through the use of executive orders — including naming two conservative judges to the U.S. Supreme Court, overhauling the tax code to lower the tax rate on corporations, and enacting a policy to deny U.S. entry to travelers from mostly Muslim-majority countries — key pieces of his agenda remain unfulfilled, such as plans for the wall along the U.S. and Mexico border and an infrastructure plan to modernize airports, roads and bridges.
An analysis by the fact-checking website PolitiFact of Trump’s 102 campaign promises from the 2016 races found that he delivered or made partial progress on about a quarter of those pledges in his first two years. Previously, the website had analyzed 533 campaign promises made by former President Barack Obama over the course of the 2008 and 2012 races, and found he delivered fully on about half of those, and reached a compromise on about a quarter of his agenda, over his eight years in office.
Asked about Trump’s prospects for passing legislation through Congress in the next two years, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a Trump supporter, said with the “current state of play I think it’s extremely difficult to get anything at all done.”
“It’s not popular for congressional Democrats to be working at all with the president, so the closer you get towards the 2020 congressional primaries, I actually think it becomes less likely that congressional Democrats will be working with the president,” Zeldin said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Trump previously indicated they were willing to work with one another before the current impasse over border wall funding. Trump had told reporters at the White House a day after the midterms: "There are many things we can get along on without a lot of trouble.”
Pelosi had encouraged Democrats last November to “work boldly” with the Trump administration, but promised Democrats would push for “oversight” of the president.
Some Democrats have called for impeachment hearings against Trump, and Democratic House committee chairmen have said they would hold hearings into the president’s business dealings, his campaign’s purported ties to Russia, and his administration’s earlier “zero tolerance” policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S. and Mexico border.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who has been both an ally and a critic of the president, said that looking ahead to the next two years, Trump should attempt to work with Congress on “issues that are not controversial” such as an infrastructure plan.
King said over the course of two years, Trump has become “more comfortable, more relaxed” in his role as president, relying more on his instincts than upon his advisers, which “could be good, or could be bad.”
“For example with Syria, that’s an example of what happens, when to use his expression, ‘you go with your gut,’ ” King said. “That’s a case where he should have consulted with his advisers.”
Trump’s decision to pull all 2,000 U.S. ground troops from Syria, while declaring victory over the Islamic State terrorist group, was widely viewed by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and Trump’s own military advisers as a premature move. Trump’s abrupt announcement, which caught many allies in the fight against ISIS off guard, prompted Jim Mattis to step down from his post as secretary of defense. On Jan. 16, four Americans were among 19 people killed in a suicide bombing in Syria, renewing concerns about the withdrawal.
King, a longtime member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he opposes Trump’s move to withdraw troops from Syria, saying “the more you withdraw, the weaker you are and the more vulnerable you are to attack.”
Amid the gridlock in Washington, Democrats are hopeful heading into 2020 that they can build off the momentum from the midterm election, which saw Democrats gain 40 seats in the U.S. House.
Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic Party national committeeman from Great Neck, said Democrats are encouraged by congressional victories in regions that have long been dominated by Republicans, such as upstate New York and Orange County, Calif.
“You saw a new coalition emerge in the midterms that will be more powerful and more impactful in the general election,” Zimmerman said. "It’s coming from Republicans, independents, as well as being driven by a commitment to restore accountability, integrity, and decency in our government.”
Recent polls taken amid the government shutdown show the majority of those polled blamed Trump for the shutdown, which closed national parks and museums and left 800,000 employees unpaid for more than a month.
An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll published on Jan. 17 found that 30 percent of registered voters polls said they will “definitely” vote for Trump, compared with 57 percent who said they would “definitely" vote against him.
A number of polls found that the shutdown caused a dip in Trump’s approval rating among key groups of his base. For example, in the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, his rating among white evangelicals dipped from 71-17 percent approval in December to 66-23 approval in January. His support among non-college-educated white men fell from to 56 percent in December to 50 percent in January.