Washington braces itself as Trump gears up to tackle tax reform

US Letter: President’s summer has left Republicans wondering what’s next

As members of the US Congress enjoyed another week off before returning to DC next week, the swirling of helicopters over central Washington signalled that the president was back at base.

On Tuesday morning the familiar whirrs of Marine One, the helicopter that transports Donald Trump from the White House to Joint Base Andrews, where Air Force One resides, could be heard over the city along with the two other helicopters that always accompany the presidential chopper.

Trump was heading to Corpus Christi, Texas, to receive an update on Tropical Storm Harvey. The next day the roar of the low-flying helicopters again filled the skies over Washington as the president headed to Springfield, Missouri, for an announcement on tax reform.

The past four weeks have seen an extraordinary series of events unfold as the president has juggled the affairs of the nation between his golf club and the White House

For DC residents beginning to trickle back to the capital after the summer break the signs of activity from the White House were a reminder that the new congressional term was about to begin.


But for many it was as if the drama of Washington politics did not take its annual pause this year. Although August is traditionally a slow month politically, Donald Trump, as always, blew the conventions of US politics out of the water.

The past four weeks have seen an extraordinary series of events unfold as the president has continued to juggle the affairs of the nation between Trump National Golf Club, in Bedminster, New Jersey, and the White House.

The month began with the political establishment still reeling from the dramatic collapse of the healthcare reform bill after John McCain withdrew his support for the so-called skinny repeal Bill in a late-night session in the Senate.

A series of personnel changes in the White House then saw Anthony Scaramucci fired after 10 days as communications chief, and Gen John Kelly replace the ousted Reince Priebus as chief of staff. But any expectation that Kelly could impose order on Trump appeared to be short lived.

Within days of retreating to Bedminster Trump stoked tensions with North Korea by veering off script and warning Kim Jong-un that any threat would be met with "fire and fury like the world has never seen". Days later he waded into controversy over a far-right protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. While initially blaming "all sides" for the violence, he then denounced the far-right movement in a statement from the White House, before reiterating his initial position in a press briefing with reporters at Trump Tower.

Further personnel changes followed with the firing of Steve Bannon, the architect of Trump's America First policy and the president's chief strategist. A few days later Trump announced plans to send more troops to Afghanistan, despite promising during his election campaign to pull the United States out of the 16-year conflict.

On Tuesday, August 22nd, he returned to campaign mode with a fiery speech in Arizona where he lashed out at the media and threatened to force Congress to close if it did not approve funding for his proposed wall on the border with Mexico.

The president then stoked further controversy on August 25th by pardoning the controversial former Texas sheriff Joe Arpaio just as Hurricane Harvey was making landfall in the Lone Star state.

Any signs of better co-operation between the White House and Congress appear to have been undermined as Trump took to Twitter to criticise senior Republicans

The relentless pace of drama and controversy from the US leader in recent weeks suggests that the chaos of the first seven months of the Trump presidency shows no sign of abating. But as the eight-month mark approaches he is under pressure to deliver some substantive policy and legislative achievements.

With Congress returning next week, focus is turning to tax reform, with the administration, in co-ordination with the Republican leadership in the House and Senate, pushing for a proposal before Christmas.

The decision to dispatch the president to Missouri this week to rally support for tax reform may indicate that the president will take a more hands-on approach than during the ill-fated healthcare discussions, when he largely washed his hands of responsibility for the plan.

But any signs of better co-operation between the White House and Congress appear to have been undermined in the past month as Trump took to Twitter to criticise senior members of the Republican party, including the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

The curious move by the president to publicly criticise the party he officially leads, and on whose support he depends in order to pass proposals through Congress, has left many scratching their heads.

With Robert Mueller's special-counsel investigation into the president's links with Russia intensifying, and a serious battle ahead on tax reform, Trump can ill afford to undermine the Republican Party.