The Congressional Apprentice

How Trump Is Approaching Capitol Hill

The House always wins? Trump addressing a joint session of Congress, February 2017 Jim Bourg / Reuters

Within 100 days of his inauguration as U.S. president, Donald Trump had concluded that the U.S. legislative process is “a very tough system.” He is hardly the first occupant of the Oval Office to arrive at that judgment. Every new president finds interaction with Congress more difficult than expected. But what is challenging for any president was bound to be even more so for Trump—especially given the political climate in the United States today. 

Trump ascended to the highest office in the land with no previous political experience, few settled policy views, and a combative style that had created enemies in quarters not usual for political leaders. With transactional instincts honed by decades in the business world, Trump has an approach that is characterized by speed and finality—hardly the hallmarks of the U.S. Congress. Instead of one place or person for a president to work with, there are two houses and two political parties, several dozen committees, various informal voting blocs, and a range of quasi-congressional bodies such as the Congressional Budget Office. A deal struck with one group must wend its way through the rest of the legislative process. It might change significantly in the process, as in the case of current Republican health-care legislation, which took several forms in the House of Representatives, a brand new form in the Senate, and a yet-to-be-determined form if there is ever a House-Senate conference. Or it might die altogether, as in the case of the 2013 immigration-reform legislation, which passed in the Senate but died in the House.

“I’m disappointed that it doesn’t go quicker,” an exasperated Trump said of his early experience working with Capitol Hill. Still, he has proved a fast learner. He has an uncanny ability to pivot quickly, as demonstrated by his business career, his personal life, and every step of the primary and general election campaigns. He has learned to trim his sails when necessary, as he has done with each successive

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