WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the nation welcomed 2018 with record high stock market performance and historic consumer confidence driving holiday retail sales, President Donald Trump and top Republicans held a two-day retreat in Maryland over the weekend to lay out legislative priorities for the year and discuss strategy for pivotal November congressional elections.
Trump and party leaders, including House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan (R- Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), face a Jan. 19 deadline on passing legislation to prevent a government shutdown. They also discussed broader issues to highlight ahead of midterm elections in which Republicans will battle to keep control of Congress.
Trump is seeking more legislative wins after cementing the first major victory of his presidency in December with a tax overhaul, including the repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate, long sought by his party and its supporters.
The White House has said its next top priorities are a plan to invest in roads, bridges and other infrastructure, and an overhaul of welfare programs. Immigration policy is also top of the list for the leaders, including addressing protections for hundreds of thousands of young adults who were brought to the United States illegally as children. Nearly 800,000 people were given temporary protection from deportation under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program instituted by former president Barack Obama, which will sunset in March under executive order from Trump.
While Trump and McConnell want to work on infrastructure first, Ryan is more interested in tackling so-called entitlement programs such as welfare and economic growth.
“What we want to work on in 2018 is making sure that everyone enjoys the economic growth that is to come,” said Ryan during a press conference from Camp David. “We want to focus on making sure that we can close that skills gap, that opportunity gap, so that everyone can get the kind of life and the career that they can get in this country.”
The White House said health care, the fiscal 2019 budget, the opioid crisis and the effort to win Senate confirmation of Trump’s nominees for various government posts were top of the agenda to be discussed at the retreat, which was also attended by Vice President Mike Pence, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).
“The President convened the congressional leadership gathered here with members of our Cabinet to outline the president’s priorities for the coming year,” said Pence. “Those include a budget agreement; investment in our military to truly rebuild and make the strongest military in the world even stronger still; immigration reform and enforcement; the construction of a wall and border security.”
Cabinet members including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt also attended, along with a handful of senior White House advisers.
The Republicans were also expected to talk about raising the budget caps for defense. Democrats have demanded any increase on defense spending be accompanied by higher caps for nondefense spending. In a press conference after the meetings, Trump, Ryan and McConnell all spoke about the importance of bipartisanship in getting the 2018 agenda on track. All 435 members of the House and a third of the Senate will be up for re-election in 2018.
“If you are like those of us here at the podium, you’d like to see America be a right-of-center country,” said McConnell. “From a right-of-center point of view, 2017 was the most consequential year in the many years that I’ve been here in Congress. The president’s spectacular nominee for the Supreme Court; 12 circuit judges … not to mention deregulation; and then topping it off with the most consequential boost to our economy through this tax reform bill.
“We hope that 2018 will be a year of more bipartisan cooperation,” he added. “The president’s agenda … are things that we believe there would be a significant number of Democrats interested in helping us accomplish.”
Later this week, Trump is scheduled to meet with Democrats on Capitol Hill to discuss immigration reform.