The Role of Congress in the Era of Trump
Mark Strand is president of the Congressional Institute and a regular speaker on how Congress works — or does not work. He joined us in Brussels to explore the Trump administration’s impact on Congress and whether it has become institutionally stronger or weaker during the current administration.
Is the way Congress is working with President Trump’s administration any different than previous U.S. presidents?
Mark Strand: It is interesting because there are different parts of Congress that react to President Trump differently. You have to think of the Republican Party in Congress as a kind of coalition party, where you have the “Ryan Republicans,” the “Trump populists,” the “Ted Cruz freedom caucus” types and “Rand Paul and libertarians.” And they do work together on some issues — tax cuts are very unifying for Republicans, so they moved a big tax reform bill through. But on health care they all had different ideas on what to do, and they failed to change the health care law. So the coalition works sometimes where they can find agreement, and it does not work on other things. There was a lot of support during increased defense spending, which is a traditional Republican issue.
What policies is Congress currently working on that will have an impact on Europe?
Mark Strand: Defense spending was the biggest issue and by the increasing size of defense budget allows us to modernize our NATO forces that can increase troops by another 20,000 American troops so this will help in the defense Europe. At the same time though we need to work on other issues with Europe. The main issue we need to work on is trade. We should take another shot at a free trade agreement even if it is not as comprehensive as we tried to do with TTIP but we should fight on things we agree on and pass what we can. It would be symbolically important, it would be a way to unify our economies, and I think it can make the next steps easier too. The whole idea of using the easy things to become bargaining chips, it does not work anymore. Decisions are hard to come by so let’s take what we can get — then move on to the next thing.
What message did Congress take from French President Macron’s address?
Mark Strand: Americans looked at Macron with a great deal of interest and I think at first we were not sure we liked him. But we seem to like him more and more. And the interesting thing about Macron is that he is unapologetically pro-European Union in a way that Americans do not generally hear from foreign leaders coming over. Normally they talk about their own countries even when they are part of the European Union. It is interesting how in the United States everyone sort of reverts back to their original identity. But this was different, and for the first time America has a clear idea of what the European Union means. No one has really said it before in such clear obvious way that was so unpublicized. President Macron did well for the European Union, probably did well for our relationship with France — which is an important relationship and, depending on who is in charge of France, has been good or bad, but it is one of the fundamental alliances issues that is really important.
Members of Congress relate very well to the European Parliament because they relate to elected officials, so they get the idea of talking to people who are accountable to their voters, because then you have to be a lot more realistic. When politicians talk with politicians you end up having a much more constructive realistic relationship. I understand the idea the EU that Macron expressed, it is something that has not really been done so well by European leaders in some time. It was certainly a useful exchange.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.