What to Know in Washington: Low Approval Holding Trump Back

Donald Trump enjoys a strong economy, the advantage of incumbency and a well funded campaign — assets that make him a good bet for re-election, even though most voters say they don’t like him.

Trump will formally kick off his 2020 re-election bid in a prime-time speech to as many as 20,000 supporters in Florida today, beginning a contest that serves as a referendum on both his job performance and his personal conduct in office.

Set aside his sagging approval ratings, the Mueller report and other controversies that have surrounded Trump’s Oval Office. The bottom line is that incumbent presidents seldom lose re-election, especially with an economy as strong as the U.S. presently enjoys. And Trump has made clear that he wants voters thinking only of dollar signs when they go to the polls.

Sustained economic growth and low unemployment have failed to bump Trump’s low approval rating, just 40% in the most recent Gallup poll. But his most ardent supporters — including rural areas where farmers have been hit hard by his trade war with China — are as enthusiastic as ever.

“Right now, Trump is much better positioned than the Democrats or the conventional wisdom would have us believe,” said Allan Lichtman, a political historian at American University in Washington who has predicted eight of the last nine elections, including Trump’s 2016 victory. “The Democrats, just like in 2016, are making the immense mistake that the way to win in 2020 is to play it safe.”

Still, no president since 1952 has been re-elected with a Gallup job approval rating below 48%, the last reading for George W. Bush before his 2004 re-election. Trump has never exceeded 46% in the poll since he took office. Shannon Pettypiece and Mike Dorning have more on Trump’s chances in 2020.


Photographer: Lauren Justice/Bloomberg
Trump at a “Make America Great Again” rally in Wisconsin in April.

Happening on the Hill

BGOV Podcast—Defense Bill: The Senate this week will consider its fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, a must-pass piece of legislation that’s been enacted for the last 58 consecutive years. House lawmakers advanced a version through committee last week over objections by Republicans, who want a larger topline budget figure and oppose provisions surrounding border funds and the naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

On this episode of BGOV’s “Suspending the Rules” podcast, defense reporters Roxana Tiron and Travis Tritten dive into the measure and preview its sticking points—among the Trump administration, the Republican-led Senate, and the Democratic-led House. Listen to “Suspending the Rules” and subscribe from a mobile device: Via Apple Podcasts | Via Overcast Via Stitcher | Via Spotify

Tariffs in the Spotlight: Trump’s top trade envoy will be in the congressional hot seat for two days this week, giving lawmakers the chance to grill him about the prospects for a deal with China, as well as various punitive measures threatened by his boss. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is up before the Senate Finance Committee today, for the first time since trade talks with Beijing collapsed in early May. That’s when Trump decided to increase tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports, and threatened to target the remaining $300 billion with duties of as much as 25%. Lighthizer will testify before the House Ways and Means Committee tomorrow. Jenny Leonard previews what to watch.

Pelosi Talks Health Care: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is trying to draw attention away from the politically explosive topic of impeaching Trump by putting health care back at center stage for Democrats. Pelosi said more than 140 House Democrats held home-district events on health care over the weekend. This focus is especially important for moderate Democrats eager show voters they’re trying to deliver on their campaign promises even as some of their colleagues push ahead with investigations of Trump’s businesses, associates and administration.

“When we won the election in November, it was health care, health care, health care,” Pelosi said yesterday at an event at East Los Angeles College in her home state of California. “People said ‘why was health care so important in the election?’ It was because it was so important in peoples lives.”

Her pivot to health care comes as the party seeks to protect vulnerable House Democrats in Republican-leaning districts in 2020, with Democratic leaders wary of an impeachment inquiry that could backfire. Read more from Laura Litvan.

Fate of Trump’s Tax Cuts: Democratic presidential candidates like Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) have talked about repealing the GOP’s tax overhaul. Yet a large-scale rollback is unlikely. Instead, two other forces could slowly unravel the law — Democrats currently in power in the House and Trump’s trade policies.

House Democrats, in a package of tax legislation that could be debated as soon as this week, will propose raising the corporate tax rate to 22% from 21% and lowering the estate tax exemption. They say that would help offset the cost of expanding the earned income tax credit for low-wage workers, broaden tax credits for families with children and renew expired tax breaks for the bio-diesel and renewable energy industries. The Republican-controlled Senate will reject anything that threatens to diminish their signature legislative achievement, but the House plan is a taste of what could come if the balance of power in Washington shifts after 2020. Read more from Laura Davison.

Cyber, Spy Threats: House Republicans, largely stymied in efforts to push Trump’s border wall, are refocusing on a wide-ranging homeland security priority: countering threats including cyberattacks and high-technology spying. “Our enemies are changing tactics and fighting us on new battlegrounds,” Mike Rogers (Ala.), the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, will say today, announcing a legislative package he’s calling the American Security Agenda at a border security conference in Washington. Michaela Ross has more.

Democrats Seek to Repeal Church Tax Hike: House Democrats will likely put forth a repeal of a controversial provision in the 2017 tax revamp that imposes a tax on some coveted benefits for employees at nonprofits, such as houses of worship, according to a Democratic and a Republican congressional aide. Such change, which is to be included in package of tax bills that could be debated as soon as Thursday, rolls back part of the 2017 law that increased the burden on tax-exempt groups, including churches, synagogues, and mosques. Read more from Laura Davison and Kaustuv Basu.

Elections and Politics

Biden Says He’ll Beat Trump in Texas: Biden said yesterday that he plans to campaign, and win, in states that have almost always supported Republicans in the last four decades, such as South Carolina, Georgia and Texas. “We plan on campaigning in the South,” he said yesterday at a Poor People’s Campaign event. “It’s a marathon—it’s a long way off.” Read more from Sahil Kapur.

Meanwhile, Biden drew a former Republican senator and an ex-Trump cabinet official to a New York fundraiser yesterday. Al D’Amato, who represented New York in the U.S. Senate from 1981 to 1999, was at the $2,800-a-head event at the Upper East Side penthouse of short seller Jim Chanos, as was former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who served as an undersecretary before being Trump’s first choice to lead the agency. Read more from Jennifer Epstein.

Florida Pitches $5 Million to Election Security Review: Florida will spend $5.1 million to review and shore up the state’s election systems against cyberattacks ahead of the 2020 elections, its governor announced yesterday. The state was a target of Russian hackers in 2016, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. Neither the FBI nor state officials have identified the two counties where hackers obtained electronic data on registered voters, Jennifer Kay reports.

Movers & Shakeups

Craft Faces Climate-Change Hurdle: Trump is closer to filling a key gap on his national security team as a Senate panel this week takes up the nomination of Kelly Craft to be U.N. ambassador after she served as envoy to Canada during contentious trade talks. But it won’t be easy.

Craft, a prominent donor to the president’s 2016 campaign, proved her value to Trump during tough trade negotiations between Washington and Ottawa that helped pave the way for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement last year. Yet her coal industry ties and waffling on the cause of climate change will face intense scrutiny from Democrats at her confirmation hearing tomorrow.

“Do you acknowledge that climate change caused by humans is real?” a trio of Democratic senators asked Craft in a letter ahead of tomorrow’s hearing. Their question echoed one Craft responded to — and was criticized for — during a 2017 interview on Canada’s CBC television network. Read more from David Wainer and Daniel Flatley.

Pence Aide Leaving for Lockheed: Jarrod Agen, communications director and deputy chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, will leave the administration, according to a statement from Pence. Agen will take a post at Lockheed Martin, according to one person familiar with the move.

Separately, John Horne, deputy assistant to Trump and deputy chief of staff for administration and operations for the vice president, is also leaving the White House, according to people familiar with the move, report Justin Sink and Shannon Pettypiece.

Ambassadors: Trump nominated Mary Beth Leonard to be U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, according to a White House statement. Trump also nominated Herro Mustafa to be U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria, Chelsea Mes reports. And Trump appointed Chad Rupe to be administrator of the Rural Utilities Service. Rupe has served as acting administrator since April.

What Else to Know

U.S. Adds Mideast Troops: The Pentagon plans to send about 1,000 more troops to the Middle East as tensions rise between the U.S. and Iran. “I have authorized approximately 1,000 additional troops for defensive purposes to address air, naval, and ground-based threats in the Middle East,” Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said in a statement. He offered no details on where the troops would be deployed or what their missions might be.

The U.S. has accused the Iranians of being behind the attacks in the Gulf of Oman last week. The Tehran government has denied any involvement in the episode. The Pentagon released new photos and a timeline it says bolsters U.S. accusations that Iran was behind the attacks, Tony Capaccio reports.

Trump, however, seemed to downplay the attacks in an interview with Time magazine that was published late last night. “So far, it’s been very minor,” he said. Asked if he was considering a military confrontation with Iran, he told Time, “I wouldn’t say that. I can’t say that at all.” In the interview he also said that the Gulf of Oman and the Middle East were less of a concern than in the past because the U.S. gets “very little” oil from the region. Read more from Tony Capaccio.

Israel, Palestine Authority Won’t Attend Bahrain Meeting: Israel won’t take part in a U.S.-led economic summit in Bahrain this month, an event seen as the first step in a Middle East peace plan being developed by the White House. The decision against going to Bahrain was made in coordination between Israel and the U.S., according to an Israeli official in the prime minister’s office.

The session, set for June 25 to 26, is meant to present an economic vision to the Palestinian people, and the U.S. doesn’t want politics to overshadow economics, a Trump administration official said. The U.S. peace proposal is being led by the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. In remarks earlier this month, Kushner said the hope was Palestinians “over time will become capable of governing.” Read more from Ivan Levingston and Josh Wingrove.

Trump Puts His Mark on Health-Care Marketplace: Trump inextricably tied his heath-care legacy to the success of the Obamacare-regulated individual marketplace his latest rule could almost double. While the administration hasn’t done a 180 on the Affordable Care Act, its latest rule inches the health-care system in a more free-market, competition-based direction, putting Trump’s own stamp on the health insurance marketplace.

“At the end of the day, the Republican idea is to not even have an employer-based system—it’s to have everyone buying insurance in the private individual market,” said Chris Condeluci, principal and sole shareholder of CC Law & Policy who helped develop portions of the ACA as a Republican counsel to the Senate Finance Committee. Read more from Madison Alder.

Trump to Swap ‘Clean Power Plan’: The Trump administration is on track to obliterate former President Barack Obama’s signature plan for combating climate change by replacing sweeping curbs on power plant emissions with requirements for modest upgrades at the sites. The Environmental Protection Agency is set to unveil its rewrite of the Clean Power Plan as soon as tomorrow, finalizing a replacement rule that would establish pollution guidelines based on potential gains from efficiency upgrades at individual facilities. Read more from Jennifer A. Dlouhy.

Connected Cars: Automakers won control over a choice swath of wireless spectrum 20 years ago on the promise of delivering safety innovations to vehicles. Now, after failing to deliver widespread breakthroughs, they’re at risk of losing those frequencies to Comcast and other cable companies that say they can use them to offer robust Wi-Fi links to subscribers.

The years-long struggle between the industries is nearing an inflection point, with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai signaling he may consider new uses for the airwaves. Pai could announce as early as today that he’ll schedule a vote to re-examine the allocation at the commission’s meeting next month. Read more from Todd Shields and Ryan Beene.

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com

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