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How The White House Plans To Tackle Its Legislative Priorities


Let's take a moment to consider a pattern that may be emerging nine months into the Trump presidency. The president takes on a big, controversial issue, makes a big, controversial statement about it and then throws to Congress to hash out the details.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I am directing my administration to work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal's many serious flaws.

KELLY: That's President Trump on decertifying the Iran deal - before that, the fight over the DACA program that protects DREAMers.


TRUMP: I have a love for these people. And hopefully now Congress will be able to help them and do it properly.

KELLY: And then there's health care.


TRUMP: Hopefully Congress will come through.

KELLY: Well, we're going to talk this through with the man whose job is steering the president's priorities through Congress. Marc Short is the White House director of legislative affairs, and he is on the line now from the White House. Marc Short, hello.

MARC SHORT: Mary Louise, thanks for having me on today.

KELLY: Before we dig in on some of the broader issues, I want to get your quick take on what is maybe the biggest item on the to-do list at the moment, and that would be taxes and overhauling the tax code, something which, as you know, Washington has tried and failed for decades now to do. Can I tempt you to give me your best percentage? How confident are you you're going to get this tax deal done by the end of the year?

SHORT: Well, you're right. It's been over 30 years since tax reform was accomplished. We're very confident with this Congress we'll pass tax reform. We believe it will be before the end of this year. It's something that the American people need to make sure that the economy - it grows again.

KELLY: We've already heard from Senator Rand Paul saying he's not going to vote for it, Senator Bob Corker, another Republican, saying he's not going to vote for anything that would add to the deficit. Are you confident you can keep all the other votes you need on board?

SHORT: Well, it's obvious that we have a pretty narrow margin in the Republican conference, and that it's a very diverse conference of a lot of different views. And so I think...

KELLY: You have a very narrow margin. I mean, you can't afford to lose any more votes.

SHORT: We cannot afford to lose votes, and I think that we witnessed that during the Obamacare repeal effort. But we're hopeful that this effort in fact will be bipartisan and that Democrats will join us in an effort to make sure that Americans have more dollars in their paycheck that comes home to them and not taken by the federal government.

KELLY: When you say you're hopeful some Democrats will jump on board, have you got somebody in mind? Who are you talking to?

SHORT: Well, I think that the president has traveled to North Dakota with Heidi Heitkamp. He's traveled to Indiana with Senator Joe Donnelly. We'll continue to make efforts to many of the states that have been most impacted with job loss. But we don't want to limit it to that. We think that we can provide tax reform that everybody knows is overdue.

KELLY: Let me turn you to the broader question of the relationship between the White House and Capitol Hill. There does seem to be this pattern emerging where the president makes his views known and then asks Congress to sort out the details. Let me ask. For starters, do you see that as a pattern?

SHORT: I see it as obviously respective of what the separation of powers are designed to be in our Constitution. Our concern with the DACA deal that President Obama put in place was he never went to Congress. He got frustrated that Congress couldn't do it, and he acted from the executive branch on an issue that courts also agree merits legislative decision making. And so what we just said is, here are our principles, and we're asking Congress to help work with us to put this into law.

KELLY: But on all of these issues, where are you hoping Congress will land? I mean, let me turn you, for example, to the Iran question which has dominated the last week. The president says the nuclear deal is a bad deal. He's asked Congress to figure out what to do about it. What are you hoping Congress will do?

SHORT: Well, the nuclear deal is a bad deal. It's an atrocious deal. And what the president said is - he asked that Congress amend the Iran nuclear deal that Congress put forward before with the Obama administration. And I think that we've already had conversations with Senator Corker, Senator Cotton and as well even with Democrat senators to talk about our challenges with it and what amendments we would like to see Congress adopt.

KELLY: What is the advantage of that as a strategy as opposed to the president saying, here's what I think should happen; it's a bad deal, and so the U.S. should pull out of it?

SHORT: Well, I guess the advantage is that this is a representative democracy, not a monarchy. And so in essence, what we're doing is we're allowing the people duly elected by citizens across this country to weigh in and not assume that these are all executive powers. It's one of the reasons that the American people wanted a change.

KELLY: It also opens the door, though, to one possibility being that Congress won't act, that after this big drama over the nuclear deal, nothing may change.

SHORT: Well, if Congress chooses not to act, the American people have a way of changing that, too, by changing their elected members in Congress.

KELLY: Does it complicate things when you're trying to get something big done like taxes and the White House keeps throwing new things on Congress's plate?

SHORT: I think that, again, the issues that we've put on Congress' belong on Congress plate. But in many cases, Congress - it takes an excessive number of recesses at the moment. And I think that we're pleased that the Senate is looking between now and the end of the year to stay in session on more Fridays, to stay in session on more weekends and to work as hard as the American people do.

KELLY: Marc Short, thank you.

SHORT: Thanks so much for having me.

KELLY: That's Marc Short, White House director for legislative affairs on the line there from the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.