WASHINGTON—Elated congressional Republicans pledged swift action Wednesday on President-elect Donald Trump’s agenda as they heralded an extraordinary new era of unified GOP control in Washington.
“He just earned a mandate,” House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin declared of Trump. “We are going to hit the ground running.”
Said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky: “We would like to see the country go in a different direction and intend to work with him to change the course for America.”
Republicans saw their majorities in the House and Senate reduced, but not by much, as Democrats’ hopes of retaking Senate control vanished. And though Ryan and McConnell both had well-publicized reservations about Trump, both were quick to declare that the newly elected president deserved the credit.
“Donald Trump pulled off an amazing political feat. He deserves tremendous credit for that,” said Ryan, who initially refused to endorse Trump and only last month declared he’d no longer defend him. “It helped us keep our majorities, but it also showed the country that people don’t like the direction we were going.”
First up would be repealing President Barack Obama’s health care law, something Republicans have already shown they can get through Congress with just a narrow Senate majority. What they haven’t done is unite around a plan for ensuring that the 20 million who achieved health care coverage under the landmark law don’t lose it.
Republicans also celebrated the opportunity to fill the existing Supreme Court vacancy, and potentially more to come, with “constitutional conservatives.” McConnell was being widely praised for his strategy, once seen as risky, of refusing to act on Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last February.
And Republicans pledged to try to unwind any number of executive moves by Obama, including tougher clean air rules on power plants, looser restrictions on travel to Cuba, and tougher rules on sleep for long-haul truckers, among others—”Every single one that’s sucking the very life out of our economy,” GOP Sen. David Perdue of Georgia said in an interview.
That threatened to wipe away key areas of progress highlighted by Democrats under the Obama administration.
Some of Trump’s goals could be harder to achieve. A wall on the southern border is estimated to cost $10 billion to $20 billion, money that Congress may be unlikely to provide given that cooperation from Democrats would be necessary.
Indeed the Senate Democratic minority stood as the only legislative barrier to Trump’s goals, since 60 votes are required for most consequential moves in the Senate.
Republicans were poised to end up with 52 Senate seats after Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., conceded to Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan in their close race. That assumes the GOP wins a December runoff in Louisiana, as expected. Democrats managed to pick up only one other GOP-held Senate seat, in Illinois, a devastating outcome for a party that went into Election Day with high hopes of holding the White House and winning back Senate control.
In the House, Republicans were on track to lose a maximum of nine seats, an unexpectedly modest reduction to a wide GOP majority that now stands at 247-188, including three vacant seats.
“We kicked their tails last night,” said GOP Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, head of the Republicans’ House campaign committee.
Trump’s extraordinary win appeared to be going far to heal divisions within the GOP, as even Republicans who’d long harbored doubts about him offered warm pledges of support.
Here and there, notes of caution were sounded, as a few Republicans made clear that Congress would be asserting its constitutional prerogatives as a check and balance on the executive, following what Republicans viewed as overly expansive use of executive power by Obama.
“It’s just our constitutional duty to keep the executive branch in check,” GOP Rep. Todd Young, the newly elected Republican senator in Indiana, told reporters in Indianapolis.
Yet McConnell appeared to invite executive action by Trump, suggesting he should be exploring what kinds of “unilateral action” he could take — to undo unilateral actions by Obama.