White House

Trump’s priorities may be endangered by backlash over Comey firing

People look out where a border structure separates San Diego, right, from Tijuana, Mexico, left, Jan. 25, 2017. President Donald Trump has moved aggressively to tighten immigration controls.
People look out where a border structure separates San Diego, right, from Tijuana, Mexico, left, Jan. 25, 2017. President Donald Trump has moved aggressively to tighten immigration controls. AP

President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into possible collusion between Russia and members of the Trump campaign, has stoked tensions on Capitol Hill.

With an already strained relationship between the White House and Democratic lawmakers — as well as some Republicans — the explosive decision could endanger much of the Trump administration’s legislative agenda.

Here are five of Trump’s priorities that could be further stalled or stopped completely because of the announcement. In many cases, key Republican allies on those issues now have questions about how Trump is handling the Comey situation.

Repealing and replacing Affordable Care Act

Passed by a narrow 217-214 in the House of Representatives, the American Health Care Act is now heading to the Senate. Multiple Republican senators, however, have signaled that the GOP-backed plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, will look drastically different if it lands on the president’s desk.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement that he didn’t “support the House bill as currently constructed” because it wouldn’t adequately cover those on Medicaid in his state. In the aftermath of the Comey firing, Portman said he wanted a “fuller explanation” on the decision because “I’m concerned about eroding trust in this premier law enforcement agency.”

Other Senate Republicans, such as John McCain, of Arizona, and Ben Sasse, of Nebraska, have also expressed concerns about both Comey’s firing and the American Health Care Act.

With a 52-48 majority in the Senate, Republicans can afford to lose only three votes on the health care bill — or two, if Vice President Mike Pence casts a tie-breaking vote.

Tax cuts

The Trump administration is seeking to implement massive tax cuts, which includes slashing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent. The Trump administration also wants to simplify tax brackets from seven options to three and eliminate the estate tax.

Critics say the tax cuts would largely benefit the wealthy, while proponents of the reductions say they would encourage innovation and spur economic growth.

In late March, Texas Rep. Kevin Brady, chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, said he was “turning the page” from health care and onto a tax overhaul. Trump and Brady have pointed to President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 tax cuts as an example of what they are seeking. Brady hasn’t offered an opinion on Comey’s firing.

Increasing defense spending

Like Trump, McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have pushed for increases in defense spending. The continuing budget resolution Congress passed last Thursday — which allocated an additional $15 billion in defense spending — will remain in effect until the end of September.

But Trump, in his original budget proposal, had sought a $54 billion hike in defense funding, possibly foreshadowing his goal for the fiscal year 2018 budget, which will soon become an issue again.

McCain remains skeptical about Comey’s firing, but Graham supported Trump’s decision, saying, “I believe a fresh start will serve the FBI and the nation well.” If Trump wishes to achieve such a historic increase in defense funding, he will likely need both veteran lawmakers on his side.

Building the wall

Trump already had an uphill battle to receive funding for his wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, which was not included in last week’s continuing resolution. Trump said he would request funding for the wall in the budget for fiscal year 2018, which starts Oct. 1, but that would require 60 votes.

Reaching that threshold seems unlikely, especially as Comey’s ouster only further inflamed tensions between Democrats and Trump.

Renegotiating NAFTA

During the presidential campaign, Trump called the North American Free Trade Agreement the “worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere” and promised to “entirely renegotiate” or withdraw from the trade deal among the U.S., Mexico and Canada.

But he has softened his tone on the deal in the past few weeks, after phone calls with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Trump has already placed a tariff on Canadian lumber, and he is still looking to renegotiate parts of the deal through legislation in Congress. The exact details of what the president is seeking remain unclear, but he will likely aim for changes to keep factory jobs in the country, one of his main campaign promises.

Josh Magness: 202-383-6172, @josh_mag

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