Trump's First 100 Days Highlight GOP Divisions

Apr 21, 2017

While President Trump has been touting the accomplishments of the first 90 days of his administration, two Iowa political scientists say the celebration may be premature. Hans Hassell is assistant professor of politics at Cornell College and Rachel Caufield is associate professor of political science at Drake University. Both say most action taken by Trump is in the form of executive orders.

Hassell says executive orders are the weakest form of policy enactment. Caufield agrees. Executive orders can be overturned by courts, future presidents and through approval of legislation by Congress. They also don't carry the weight of efforts that have received budget allocations.

For example, in January President Trump signed an executive order saying the policy of the executive branch is to "secure the southern border of the United States through the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border." But, without a budget allocation from Congress, the order is effectively meaningless.

"You would expect a Republican with Republican majorities in both the House and Senate to be able to get through some substantial legislation," says Hassell. But, he says, the fact that President Trump has not been able to win legislative victories may say more about divisions within the GOP between mainstream Republicans and more conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus than it does about Trump.

"I think that it's this division that that brought down John Boehner that has threatened Paul Ryan that continues to exist and continues to cause problems for any Republican president. I think I would be saying the same thing if it was Jeb Bush or or John Kasich in office, because you'd have the same structural problems that would make it difficult to pass legislation within his own party," says Hassell.

In March, President Trump threw his support behind a plan crafted by House Speaker Paul Ryan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Members of the House Freedom Caucus said they wouldn't support the legislation and it was withdrawn when it became clear the bill didn't have enough votes to pass.

Caufield says she'll be watching how Republicans in congress handle upcoming issues. "I think that the upcoming debate on tax reform is going to tell us a lot about where the Republican Party is, and the degree to which these factions within the Republican Party can ultimately come together to work on common goals, or if they are so factionalized at this point that meaningful substantive legislating is going to be difficult," says Caufield.

Hassell and Caufield made their comments on River to River with host Ben Kieffer.