Early Returns

An Inept Congress Needs a Stronger President

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Not helping.

Photographer: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Republicans may be about to get a good lesson about why having a president who can do more than sign the bills they send him is a lot more important than they seemed to think it was last year. 

Democrats Take Governor Races in Virginia, New Jersey

The Republican tax bill is moving forward, more or less. But it's about to endure a test that may be even tougher than it was going to be, thanks to Tuesday's election results. The problem is that different groups within the House Republican conference are going to interpret the elections in different, self-serving ways. Members in swing districts are going to be even more afraid of passing something their constituents don't like, whether it's something specific such as ending the deduction for state and local taxes or just a general sense of not wanting to vote for an unpopular bill, especially one with a difficult path through the Senate. But members in some other districts may believe that Republicans did poorly on Tuesday because they were already too wishy-washy, and what they need is a strong conservative bill to rally the troops. 

Presidents can never dictate to Congress. But they can help solve coordination problems. Not by just bloviating, but by carefully listening to members and listening to what members are hearing, and finding a path that works. Yes, that's the job in the first place of the speaker and other party leaders in the House, and perhaps of committee chairs, but only the president has the visibility and influence to at least potentially lay down the law and make it stick. Especially when both chambers of Congress are involved. Especially when quite a few members are probably eager to follow someone's lead. 

Of course, Donald Trump doesn't do any of that. He barely appears to know what's in any bill, let alone understand the options available that might pick up 218 votes in the House and whatever it takes in the Senate (a simple majority for the tax bill through reconciliation, 60 without that procedure if there's a filibuster, and there's always a filibuster). 

By all accounts, this group of congressional Republicans just isn't very good at legislating. But a strong president can help. Too bad for them they don't have one. 

1. Julia Azari on why we're still looking back at the 2016 election

2. Sarah Bush at the Monkey Cage on evaluating democracies

3. Also at the Monkey Cage: John Sides on why it would take votes from Democrats to pass tax reform. Yes, but if what Republicans actually want is tax cuts, then that's not an option available to them. The problem for Republicans continues to be that they seem to think they can have both, and they can't. 

4. Josh Putnam on what is happening to the Democrats' superdelegates

5. Susan Glasser interviews Pat Schroeder and Deborah James on the bad old days for women in national security, and what has and hasn't changed. 

6. My Bloomberg View colleague Justin Fox on the tax bill

7. And it was Election Day here in San Antonio, too, but just barely. Texas approves or rejects state constitutional changes every odd-year November, at least assuming the Legislature has produced some of them. This year, there were seven. And we needed to fill two spots on the board of the local water authority. Woo! Actually, though, these were tough ones. They were all obscure contests, with minimal newspaper coverage and barely any campaigns. Add that they were ballot measures and a nonpartisan race, and there were no easy clues to help voters. As always, I give my voting statistics. This was the third Election Day for me of the year and of the two- and four-year cycle. I cast nine votes, which gets me to 20 votes over those three Election Days. That's 20 votes during an off year.

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Brooke Sample at bsample1@bloomberg.net

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