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Published: Friday, May 19, 2017 @ 12:00 AM
After celebrating House approval of a GOP health care bill with a pep rally in the White House Rose Garden on May 4, political fallout from the firing of the FBI Director and the investigation into Russia's election meddling have pushed President Donald Trump's focus away from his domestic agenda, as he leaves for his first overseas trip on Friday.
Following an active first 100 days in office, which sometimes saw him do three or four public events in a day, the President's White House schedule slowed noticeably over the last two weeks, as he did little to promote GOP efforts in Congress to revamp the Obama health law and press for other items on his legislative agenda.
"Obamacare is collapsing, it's dead, it's gone," the President said at the White House on Thursday, making a very short mention of health care, two weeks after the House had approved a GOP health care plan.
Instead of trying to capitalize on that bit of good news, and create more momentum for Republicans in Congress, the President spent the last two weeks mainly doing battle over the FBI Director and the probe into Russia's election year interference.
On Capitol Hill, there was concern among some GOP lawmakers this week that the focus needs to be shifted back to the Trump Agenda, no matter what's going on with Russia at the White House.
"It does sort of take away from the urgency of things that we have to get done," said Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL). "And that's unfortunate."
"There's a continual fodder for raising the issues," Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH) said of questions about the Russia investigation.
"It's a distraction from the main agenda," he added.
"I know that people can get consumed with the news of the day," said House Speaker Paul Ryan, "but we are here working on people's problems every day."
Other Republicans echoed the Speaker in arguing that the GOP can walk - and chew gum - at the same time, and work on their agenda, no matter what the President is dealing with.
"I'm not worried about it slowing down unless Republicans give in to the media pressure that there is a problem," said Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA).
But the House floor schedule this week was very light - with nothing that resembled major legislation, as Republicans seem unlikely to swiftly move forward on a series of major items:
1) Health care. While the House has already approved a bill to overhaul the Obama health law, it's not clear when the Senate will put together its own plan, and bring that to the floor for debate and votes. GOP Senators are meeting regularly on the issue, but don't seem to be near a deal. Next week, the Congressional Budget Office score comes out on the House-passed bill.
2) Tax reform. Even though the President and GOP leaders in Congress agree on the need to act on tax cuts and tax reform, no bill has yet been formulated. And because of the special 'reconciliation' process being used to avoid a Senate filibuster, work on that must wait until action is fully completed on health care. Speaker Ryan wants it done this year - that will be difficult.
3) Budget resolution. Along with health care, Republicans must approve a budget blueprint for 2018 that authorizes another reconciliation bill, which the GOP plans to use for tax reform. That plan is supposed to be done by April 15 - but over a month later, it remains on hold. President Trump will submit his budget details to Congress next week.
4) Spending bills. A year ago at this time, House Republicans were already busy on the dozen spending bills for the 2017 budget year. It didn't matter, as the process bogged down yet again, and seems likely to be behind schedule again this year. Remember, the Congress hasn't approved those yearly appropriations bills on time (by September 30) since 1996.
"We’ve made tremendous progress in the last 100-some-odd days," the President said on Thursday at the White House. "I'm very proud of it. That's what I want to be focused on."
The last two weeks though, have not been from that playbook.
The President will have a chance to change that, and re-focus on his domestic agenda, when he gets back from his nine day trip.