The Republican Congress returns to Capitol Hill this week increasingly uncertain that a major legislative victory is achievable in the three weeks before lawmakers leave town for their month-long summer recess.
Most immediately, GOP leaders and President Trump are under enormous pressure to approve health-care legislation — but that is only the beginning. Virtually every piece of their ambitious legislative agenda is stalled, according to multiple Republicans inside and outside of Congress.
They have made no serious progress on a budget despite looming fall deadlines to extend spending authorization and raise the debt ceiling. Promises to launch an ambitious infrastructure-building program have faded away. And the single issue with the most potential to unite Republicans — tax reform — has yet to progress beyond speeches and broad-strokes outlines.
The fallout, according to these Republicans, could be devastating in next year’s midterm elections. A demoralized GOP electorate could fail to turn out in support of lawmakers they perceive as having failed to fulfill their promises, allowing Democrats to sweep back into the House majority propelled by their own energized base.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said if Republicans cannot deliver on their promises in the coming weeks, voters “are going to start saying, ‘What difference does it make who’s in power?’ ”
“There is a real anxiety among the people that I serve on why we’re not putting more things on the president’s desk,” he said. “They’re tired of excuses.”
All told, Republicans are in danger of squandering their grasp on the White House, the Senate and the House after a decade of divided government and years of stoking a conservative base to expect major policy wins. Unable so far to secure progress on his top priorities, Trump is also bumping up against history: Every president of the modern era has been able to claim at least one signature legislative achievement before the first August recess.