The Hill speaks on Donald Trump's White House

GOP remains confident key victories will happen

WASHINGTON (CNN) - After almost one month in the White House of President Donald Trump, Republicans in Congress are still certain they will get the many policies he promised -- despite bipartisan divisions.

"It's been four weeks so it's not like we're talking about four months -- I know it might feel like four months -- but it's been four weeks," said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who dined with Trump Wednesday night.

And that was before Trump took the podium at the White House Thursday and delivered a 75-minute press conference which held the Capitol rapt.

"The people that love him will love him more, the people that hate him will hate him more and the people in the middle probably will look at it the way that we look at in Congress, which is that's just the new normal. That's just the s*** that happens. I don't know how else to manage it," said one Republican lawmaker after Trump's press conference. "We're just trying to manage this s***."

For the most part, Republicans remain confident that big items like health care and tax reform will be passed this year, notching up some long-awaited victories.

"I'm not a great fan of daily tweets" but "I am a fan" of what Trump is doing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday.

A Hill Republican who visited the White House recently said, "I was anticipating more chaos, because of media reports and everything, and it was more orderly than I anticipated. It was kind of a normal flow, in and out."

Part of what the lawmaker learned, and hopes colleagues will see is that some of this is just Trump's management style: "His operational style is one of sort of three simultaneous conversations, on the phone quick -- it's run and gun."

Just one week into office, Trump signed his travel ban -- catching even his supporters in the Capitol off-guard. And the persistent drip of stories about ties between Russian officials and Trump's campaign has grown into a steady stream in the last two months, finally claiming former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn in the process.

At times, the national focus has been on actual conservative legislative priorities.

House and Senate Republicans have been working steadily behind the scenes at the Capitol, hammering out the details of the proposals they have long sought -- repealing the Affordable Care Act, overhauling the tax code -- and Trump promised them he would sign. And conservatives have applauded his nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court.

When asked if he was concerned about the persistent questions about Russia and other problems from the White House, House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions pointed out Thursday that most of the questions he was getting were on their priority: repealing Obamacare.

The opposition

Now House and Senate Republicans will head back to their districts for the first serious break since the start of January, where most of them will be met by well-organized groups of protesters swarming their town halls.

Democrats see a ticking clock for the unified Republican government that erodes their support, the longer that they stay distracted from their agenda and dealing with Trump issues.

"It's certainly making it harder for Republicans to get their domestic agenda through Congress. Every day that they're obsessed about the developing scandal around Flynn and the context of the Russian government, it makes it less likely they're going to be able to get a repeal of the Affordable Care Act or a trickle-down tax cut through Congress," said Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat.

"It'd be a risky bet to believe that this administration is going to get radically more functional over the course of the next four years," Murphy added.

Although Democrats are outnumbered 52-48 in the Senate, they've scored some points -- like Sen. Elizabeth Warren's breaking of Senate rules to lure McConnell into a late-night fight.

"We have 30 hours post-cloture debate that happens no matter what's happening over here. In one way, we've got plenty to do, but it's certainly not helpful to have the distraction," said Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican and routine critic of Trump's actions.

Asked if he thought Republicans would have been struggling with overnight debates and walkouts if Jeb Bush or Rubio had won, Flake said, "No. I think it's clear we wouldn't."

Reconnecting with Hill allies

Before his press conference, Trump invited his closest Hill allies to the White House -- members who endorsed him early on in his campaign when the establishment was still on the fence about the wildcard nominee.

According to sources in the meeting, there was a fair bit of reminiscing about the campaign and the connections made in those early days. No talk of voter fraud though, an issue Trump has repeatedly brought up at meetings with lawmakers as he maintains without evidence that he, not Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote.

"It was very positive," a source in the meeting said. "He talked about health care and getting that going."

While some on the Hill fear that Trump's White House is divided, sources in the meeting said the administration strongly pushed back against that narrative. At one point, sources in the room said the administration made light of the news coverage of the West Wing.

"They feel like the image being painted or portrayed is not correct," a source in the room said.

From the meeting, sources say Trump is still very committed to ensuring he gets his border wall. One member in the meeting suggested that a double fence might work well enough, but Trump pushed back.

Supporters inside the meeting say he touted a bedrock of his campaign -- the border wall -- and emphasized it would be a wall, not a fence.

"He was going to build it," the source said.

That's a fight yet to come.


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