Governing during a Donald Trump Administration

GW's SMPA hosts three U.S. senators who discuss what comes next.

Sen. James Lankford (l), Sen. Amy Klobuchar, SMPA Director Frank Sesno, Sen. Christopher Coons and Dana Bash of CNN discuss governing under Donald Trump. (Logan Werlinger/GW Today)
December 02, 2016

By B.L. Wilson

Three U.S. senators--a Republican and two Democrats--who came to George Washington University to discuss governing under a Trump Administration generally agreed on two points: that president-elect Donald Trump will be unpredictable and that his victory has been a shock to the U.S. political system.

U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) put it this way: “No one knows what to expect except to expect that things are going to be different.”

In an event titled “Now What: Governing in the Era of Donald Trump,” Mr. Lankford was joined Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) Tuesday night in a Jack Morton Auditorium that was packed with GW students.

The senators also agreed that Mr. Trump is unlikely to govern the way he campaigned. That has been reflected, Mr.  Coons said, “by the tempo of his tweeting” that has been “tamped down.”

The evening was sponsored by the School of Media and Public Affairs with the support of GW College Republicans and College Democrats. SMPA Director Frank Sesno was joined by GW alumna Dana Bash, a CNN political correspondent, in moderating the discussion. In opening remarks, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Dean Ben Vinson said that these kinds of events are part of “a long tradition of bringing together the leading minds of politics and media to engage in healthy debate to advance our democracy and our civic dialogue.”

Mr. Coons said that statements by the president-elect in recent days suggest that the gravity of the job is already beginning to sink in.

“I choose to be hopeful based on the tenor that Trump struck in his victory speech where he focused on veterans and infrastructure, period,” Mr. Coons said.

His observations were intended to reassure those present who raised their hands when Mr. Sesno asked whether they were fearful of what will happen now that Mr. Trump has been elected.

Ms. Klobuchar said that people are fearful because the country’s political system appears to be broken, and they have legitimate fears about security questions that could affect people’s lives and the world order.

But she said Mr. Trump’s policies would be held in check by the legislative and judicial branches of government.  

“The law is bigger than any one person’s tweet. The law is bigger than any one person’s rhetoric,” said Ms. Klobuchar.

In response to Ms. Bash’s observation that the election was a shock to the U.S. political system, Mr.  Lankford said that a part of that system hasn’t functioned well.

“For those of you who are scared of a President Trump, this is an America responding in frustration to a budget process that doesn’t work,” said Mr. Lankford, explaining that Congress has only managed to come up with a budget four times since 1974. “That’s not great. This is the frustration of people who feel like they are not being heard.”

The senators said Republicans and Democrats would be able to find common ground on issues such as infrastructure, manufacturing jobs and supporting veterans. Democrats Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Coons said they expect Republicans and the private sector to join them in moderating the president-elect on some issues.

“The private sector has already accepted the idea that climate change is real,” Mr. Coons said.

The senators foresee challenges on immigration reform and repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Ms. Klobuchar said immigration is a major cause of fear particularly in her state of Minnesota where there is a large Somali and Hmong population concerned about their status.

“Immigration could be Mr. Trump’s ‘Nixon goes to China’ moment,” said Mr. Lankford, who pointed out that the Senate was able to pass  an immigration bill in the past but could not get cooperation from either the House of Representatives or the White House.

“[Trump] has the bully pulpit. This is a situation where Trump can stand up and say, ‘Immigration is a problem,’” Mr. Lankford said.

The senators agreed that the Affordable Care Act needs to be amended.

Democrats have said they would object to just repealing the ACA. The hope, Mr. Lankford said, is to let the millions of people who are insured under ACA keep that coverage and to help the states that haven’t signed on make adjustments.

Ms. Klobuchar urged the audience to stay involved, volunteer and not just talk about issues.

Mr. Lankford told them, “Become more interested in policy than in politics, the job rather than the job interview.”

Mr. Coons told them to stay “engaged."

“Learn from people who are different from you," he said. "We have to have an engaged, passionate electorate or democracy doesn’t work. It's still America, and the lights are still on.”



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