A new President

The White House in Washington DC

Following a divisive and keenly-contested election campaign, Donald Trump enters the White House as the 45th President of the United States on Friday, 20 January.

Much of the focus on the President-Elect has concentrated on his rhetoric and his ideas on foreign policy – but he also faces major challenges domestically, not least in how he will cultivate relations with Congress. Professor Tom Scotto, of the University of Strathclyde’s School of Government & Public Policy, comments on what may lie ahead: 

“The main issue will be is how well Donald Trump’s initiatives are going to go down with Republicans in congress. He was elected as a Republican and Congress is now held – comfortably, though not overwhelmingly – by Republicans.

“But he didn’t run as a traditional Republican – he was much more populist and appealed to working-class voters. The decline of Democrat support among white working-class voters is a long-term trend but may have been accelerated in this election. 

“Many of these traditional Republicans are pro free-trade but it’s something Donald Trump is very sceptical about. Many, though, also agree with his view of Obamacare as a disaster; the problem is it’s not clear what programme can replace the outgoing President’s signature programme.  Replacing Obamacare, while popular in theory and with many Trump voters, might in practice mean that people lose access to healthcare.  The issue of healthcare might become a ‘third rail’ that zaps Republicans, just as they are at the height of their power.”

“On immigration, Trump and the Republicans likely will find common ground in efforts to strengthen cross-border patrols on people coming in.  The challenge is that a sustainable policy that aims to enforce immigration laws on the Mexican border won’t necessarily entail a wall in practice but might still be seen as not being enough by the Republican base.  On the flip side, it could alienate Hispanic voters who chose to vote Trump or are open to casting their Congressional votes for Republicans.”       

Infrastructure investment

“His plans for infrastructure investment are particularly interesting. Many Republicans were wary of increased Federal spending, particularly under tight budgetary constraints. America’s deficit under Barack Obama has declined since the recession but there would have to be a trade-off between any domestic spending and tax cuts; Republicans are often much more for tax cuts and we might see tensions.

 “Executive-legislative relations are going to be front and centre in the Trump administration. Getting a bill through Congress isn’t easy – older people will remember that Democratic President Jimmy Carter had problems there despite it being controlled by the Democrats during his term.  

“There are members of Congress who are already sceptical of presidential use of power that members feel rests with the legislative branch.  Although Obama will leave office with the lowest average number of annual Executive Orders since Grover Cleveland in the late 1800s, Congress is increasingly sceptical of Presidential decision-making.  Given President-Elect Trump’s unorthodox behaviour, this may serve as an impetus for Congress to take back some control over functions assumed by Presidents in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries,

“Donald Trump is entering the White House with some of the lowest approval ratings for a President Elect, at levels we normally see around mid-term elections. But he has an opportunity when he appoints a new Supreme Court Justice in the next couple of weeks; Republicans will be looking for an ideological conservative and this could placate Congress. It could be Trump’s opportunity to show he is ‘one of them.’ “