Updated at 1:21 p.m. ET
Welcome to September! Where did the summer go?
It was a rough August for President Trump. His White House staff has been hollowed out; he was roundly criticized for his divisive response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va.; and he heads into fall weakened politically with abysmal approval ratings and doubts about his leadership and presidency.
His response to Hurricane Harvey had its odd moments — calling out crowd size and wondering publicly about how the recovery efforts would be viewed in five or 10 years. But so far, local officials have praised his administration’s response to help the recovery. It’s still very early to know how well it will be handled long term, as the waters in Texas are only starting to recede.
But none of this bodes well for Trump’s political capital for the fall fights ahead. September is going to be a busy month, and the president is still without any signature legislative victories — with no promise of one in sight.
Sure, he and the GOP Congress would like to get to a tax overhaul, but that lingers only as a distant dot on the horizon.
First — and most pressing for those in Houston — Congress has to get through tricky funding measures. It has to pass a government funding bill by Sept. 30 (or risk shutting down the government) and raise the debt ceiling by Oct. 15 (or risk defaulting on America’s credit).
Not doing either is odious, wildly unpopular and something no congressional leader wants. To put it bluntly — and smart congressional aides and leaders know this — faltering on either would be political TNT for the GOP and Trump.
Remember what happened to the GOP’s and President Barack Obama’s ratings in the fall of 2011, when they fought over the debt ceiling and couldn’t agree on government funding, leading to a partial shutdown?
And that says nothing of the need for Congress to pass what may be multiple Houston relief funding measures that will total in the billions. How acrimonious will that become — at least rhetorically — given that some of the conservatives who voted against or spoke out against funding for Superstorm Sandy and other recovery efforts are from Texas?
Will those same members again demand offsetting cuts? Will the members scorned in those other fights wag their fingers and try to make the Ted Cruzes pay a price publicly?
One thing the devastation in Houston, as a result of Hurricane Harvey, has done is stop the president from making threats about government shutdowns (that no congressional leader wants) over border wall funding. And Trump’s Treasury secretary — as well as congressional leaders — wants the debt ceiling raised.
So September is going to be a messy month of political sausage-making on Capitol Hill, as NPR’s Scott Detrow reported earlier this week. In the end, Harvey relief, a debt ceiling increase and government funding are all expected to pass.
The president has gotten a Supreme Court nominee through, reversed several Obama policies, including various regulations, and put through a handful of executive orders.
But even if Congress passes a continuing resolution to keep the lights on in the government, raises the debt ceiling and gets Harvey relief funding through, that’s mostly maintaining the status quo. It is hardly overhauling the health care system or tax code or rebuilding the nation’s bridges and roads.
With no major legislative achievements, even the most successful September is likely to mean Trump’s legacy by October won’t advance from where it is right now.