President Donald Trump, energized by an end-of-year tax cut victory and a buoyant economy, is pushing ahead with a domestic and foreign priority agenda designed with the 2018 mid-term elections in mind.
“Welfare reform, infrastructure, responsible immigration reform and health care will all be top priorities for the administration this year,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Trump’s latest tweets provide a few clues about his mindset. Among his first tweets of the New Year, the president cast Republicans as the friends of young immigrants who could be deported when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program expires ends in March.
And he has signaled that he won’t relent on his campaign promise to restrict illegal immigration and build a wall along the Mexican border.
White House officials say repealing and replacing Obamacare is also a Trump imperative.
But the most immediate priority will be avoiding a government shutdown January 19 when the current stopgap funding measure runs out.
“Obviously the budget is the first and foremost … and the biggest priority in the immediate term,” Sanders said Tuesday. “The president wants a two-year budget deal that provides realistic budget caps and provides for our national security. That’ll be front and center in the conversations that are taking place this week [with Congressional leaders].”
Trump watchers say the president also wants to step up initiatives to roll back what he has called the “regulatory state” this year and win bipartisan approval of an infrastructure bill that could authorize as much as a trillion dollars in new spending.
“He wants to take the momentum from tax reform which he sees as a cornerstone achievement, using his executive power to tear down a lot of the big government and big regulation that he sees as impediments to the American economy and doing business with the United States, and move on to infrastructure as the next priority,” said Dan Mahaffee, senior vice president and director of policy at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.
“He personally likes building things. He has a construction background, and he’s going to like projects to rebuild bridges and roads and other big projects,” Mahaffee said. “The pushback he will get will be from Republicans worried about the price tag of these massive infrastructure projects.”
Mahaffee and others say, however, that no matter how much Trump wants to focus on the crucial mid-term elections, geopolitical issues have a way of dominating a president’s priorities.
“There are always these surprises on the global stage, things you can’t plan for and have to accommodate,” he said. “I don’t think anyone saw the nature of these protests in Iran that have really driven from the bottom up about economic concerns.”
Trump has devoted a number of tweets to Iran in past days, and was busy again Tuesday following the latest night of deadly clashes.
Trump’s embrace of the protesters and denunciations of Iran’s government contrasts with how the Obama administration responded to the 2009 protests over Iran’s contested presidential election. At the time, U.S. officials had more restrained responses to try to keep the U.S. from becoming an issue in the demonstrations.
James Carafano, vice president for the Institute of National Security and Foreign Policy at Washington’s conservative Heritage Foundation, says that decision was a mistake.
“One of the things that took the steam out of the revolution in 2009 was the fact they felt that the rest of the world had abandoned them. They got no strong support from the international community,” he told VOA.
“The regime interpreted that as, there need be no constraints on how they responded. That has changed,” Carafano said.
Former Obama administration officials dispute that view, saying that such high-profile support will do more harm than good.
Containing the North Korea threat and a more confrontational approach toward China will join Iran as Trump’s foreign policy priorities in 2018, as set out in the National Security Strategy issued in December.
Many pundits in the international community have described Trump’s foreign priorities as confused and chaotic, but Carafano says America’s enemies see the president’s positions on key issues as robust.
“I think our adversaries increasingly think they have to take into account an American foreign policy that is more forceful than the previous administration,” he said.