The budget begins to define an ideology, but is it Trump's?

(Los Angeles Times)

In describing the spending plan that the White House released this week, budget director Mick Mulvaney said he was turning Donald Trump’s campaign promises into numbers.

He was half right.


The extra spending in the budget hews to the priorities of the Trump campaign. The budget cuts largely reflect long-standing priorities of someone else — Mick Mulvaney.

Good afternoon, I'm David Lauter, Washington bureau chief. Welcome to the Friday edition of our Essential Politics newsletter, in which we look at the events of the week in Washington and elsewhere in national politics and highlight some particularly insightful stories.


Trump campaigned heavily for several ideas that require more spending — additional millions for the military, for veterans' health, border enforcement and, to a lesser extent, for a school voucher program. All those now feature in his budget.

But even more than most politicians, Trump showed little interest during the campaign in spending cuts.

Reducing foreign aid and money for research on global warming, yes, but cutting Meals on Wheels? Privatizing air traffic control? Eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and wiping out aid to farm communities? None of those was among the ideas that got Trump elected.

Those are, however, all long-standing causes for Mulvaney and some of his former colleagues on the conservative end of the House Republican caucus. And as Noah Bierman reported, the cuts also advance the goal enunciated by Trump's adviser, Steve Bannon, who has advocated "deconstruction of the administrative state."

[The Times' graphics staff has put together this summary of the winners and losers in Trump's budget. Many of the budget cuts would have an especially tough impact on California, Evan Halper reported.]

Trump's decision to embrace those cuts helps answer a key question about what his administration will look like.

Trump ran his presidential campaign largely as an independent — a wealthy businessman, relatively free of pressure from donors, who took over the Republican Party and made clear that he would abandon its orthodoxies at will. That left a big question mark hovering — what would Trumpism be like in practice.

Starting with the selection of his Cabinet and continuing through his embrace of the House GOP plan for replacing Obamacare, Trump began to answer that question: He would govern on the long-standing priorities of the GOP right wing.

The budget solidifies that choice.

But that choice comes with a consequence: In adopting the right's priorities, Trump also inherits its fights. There's a reason the budget cuts Mulvaney prefers never became law during the George W. Bush administration — they're generally not popular, and getting them enacted requires using up a lot of political capital on one spending battle after another.

On healthcare, Trump only recently acknowledged publicly — and perhaps only recently came to realize — that his embrace of conservative preferences had drawn him into politically risky fights, some of which were inconsistent with what he had promised in his campaign.


"A lot of things aren't consistent, but these are going to be negotiated," he told Tucker Carlson of Fox in an interview on Wednesday when asked about whether the health bill jibed with his campaign pledges.

The president has been sounding increasingly unhappy with the way the health debate has unfolded. As Cathy Decker noted, his frustration has become increasingly visible. In a few months, he may be equally displeased with what's become of his budget.


The healthcare bill is headed for a vote in the House, now scheduled for Thursday to give Speaker Paul Ryan more time to cobble together a majority. The bill is under fire from both the party's right wing and its centrists, and polls show it's unpopular with voters.

Those problems only deepened this week when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported that the bill would throw some 24 million Americans off their health plans. As Noam Levey reported, the impact would be particularly harsh on many Trump voters — rural and older Americans, who heavily supported Trump in the election, are significantly disadvantaged by the GOP bill.

As Lisa Mascaro writes, the bill's problems have turned passage into a potential make or break moment for the speaker.

If Ryan can't find the 216 votes he needs for a majority (the House currently has five vacant seats), his authority as speaker would be badly undermined. So, too, would his relationship with Trump. Already, lots of Trump's advisers have been whispering that Ryan and his allies have led the president into a blind alley.

But a big part of the problem for the GOP's "repeal and replace" strategy, as Mascaro wrote, is that finding a replacement for Obamacare was never really part of their plan. What Ryan had originally wanted to do was repeal Obamacare with a delay, buying time for a replacement later. He's known all along that although Republicans agree on the repeal part, they're badly divided on replace.

But repeal and delay proved politically unpopular, and Trump himself ruled it out, forcing the GOP to come up with a replacement plan for which they're still not ready. Now, the healthcare debate threatens to extend into the summer, crowding out other priorities that Trump says he cares about, including tax cuts and a plan to rebuild the nation's roads, bridges and airports.

In the meantime, federal data this week showed that roughly 12 million people have enrolled in health plans through the Obamacare websites this year.


Another area where Trump has embraced the agenda of the GOP right wing is on the environment. This week, he announced a plan to roll back Obama administration rules that would require a boost in mileage for U.S. cars and trucks. As Halper wrote, that move almost surely puts the administration on course for a fight with California over fuel economy.

But, Halper reported, administration officials are hesitating about repealing another Obama-era rule — one that requires oil and gas companies to reduce leaks of natural gas from wells, pipelines and other facilities.

The Obama administration imposed the rule largely because methane gas is a powerful contributor to global warming. But the rule has strong public support in gas-producing states such as Colorado because of concerns over air pollution.


The budget includes roughly $2.6 billion for additional "strategic infrastructure" on the border, some of which will go to build at least part of Trump's long-promised border wall.


And, as Brian Bennett discovered in the document's fine print, it would also expand Trump's fight against so-called sanctuary cities, proposing to end a federal program that has reimbursed local jails in places like Los Angeles for the cost of holding immigrants in the country illegally.

Meantime, Trump's own words have continued to haunt his administration in its continued effort to gain approval of a temporary ban on travel from six mostly Muslim counties. As Jaweed Kaleem and Kurtis Lee reported, two federal judges have put a hold on the new version of the travel ban. Both cited Trump's campaign call for a ban on Muslim immigration as evidence that the travel order may be an unconstitutional act of religious discrimination.

The administration will take its case to the appeals courts, where it could win — many legal experts have questions about whether the law allows judges to use a candidate's campaign statements as evidence that an official act had an unconstitutional purpose. Ultimately, the case could land in the Supreme Court.


At the slow pace the travel ban has moved, Trump's nominee to the high court, Neil Gorsuch, could get confirmed before the case lands on the docket. That wasn't Trump's plan — he has repeatedly said that imposing the ban quickly was urgent — but, in the end, it could help him.

Next week, the Senate Judiciary Committee begins hearings on Gorsuch. Democrats will bitterly note that President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, never got to that stage because the Republican majority in the Senate denied him a hearing.

As David Savage wrote, the session should be a triumphant moment for originalism, the legal philosophy that Gorsuch shares with the late Justice Antonin Scalia.


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is on a six-day swing through East Asia, and as Tracy Wilkinson and Matt Stiles reported, he's using increasingly tough rhetoric about North Korea.

Unfortunately for public understanding of what Tillerson is saying and how the administration sees the threat in North Korea, Tillerson is traveling with almost no reporters on his plane.

Departing from the practice followed by secretaries of State going back at least to Henry Kissinger, Tillerson took only one reporter from a conservative website with him, as Michael Finnegan wrote.

That's an odd decision because it deprives the administration of an opportunity to explain its policies to the public by having officials talk on background to reporters, saying the things that diplomats can't always say in public with cameras rolling.


The Republican chairs of both the House and Senate Intelligence committees, as well as the ranking Democrats on the panels, both said this week that there was no evidence to support Trump's claim that Obama had wiretapped him before the election.

But the White House still won't back away from Trump's accusation. Spokesman Sean Spicer has tried to redefine Trump's words, as Bierman reported, suggesting at various points that when Trump tweeted about wiretapping, he meant surveillance of any sort and that when he referred to himself as a target, he might have been talking about people around him and that when he referred to Obama as the culprit, he might have meant the previous administration in general.

At one point, he read the transcript of a Fox News broadcast in which a commentator had alleged that Obama had asked British intelligence to spy on Trump. Late Thursday, that led to an angry denial from the British government, which called the report "nonsense." On Friday, White House officials scrambled to avoid a diplomatic incident.

Given all that, here's a reminder of what Trump actually wrote: "How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!"

Twitter has long been Trump's favored means of pushing his message. We're compiling all of Trump's tweets. It's a great resource. Take a look.

It's possible, of course, that some Trump associates, maybe even Trump himself, might have been picked up by surveillance that the FBI was doing of Russian officials. That could have been part of routine surveillance of Russians — the sort of monitoring that picked up conversations between former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Or it could have been related to the continued investigation into Russian efforts to influence the election.

That topic will get at least a partial public airing on Monday when FBI Director James Comey is scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill.

Trump has advocated better relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In doing so, he's followed the lead of an unusual guide, Orange County's Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who, as Sarah Wire reports, has gotten the label of Putin's favorite member of Congress.


That wraps up this week. My colleague Sarah Wire will be back Monday with the weekday edition of Essential Politics. Until then, keep track of all the developments in national politics and the Trump administration with our Essential Washington blog, at our Politics page and on Twitter @latimespolitics.


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