Sep. 15, 2017

The Congressional Apprentice: How Trump Is Approaching Capitol Hill

Editor’s note: The complete essay by Batten’s Jeff Bergner, who teaches classes on U.S. national security policy, appears in the September/October 2017 issue of Foreign Affairs. The publication permits the posting of this brief excerpt. The complete article is available at no charge at Foreign Affairs for new subscribers, who recevie free viewing of one article after registering.


Within 100 days of his inauguration as U.S. president, Donald Trump had concluded that the U.S. legislative process is “a very tough system.” He is hardly the first occupant of the Oval Office to arrive at that judgment. Every new president finds interaction with Congress more difficult than expected. But what is challenging for any president was bound to be even more so for Trump — especially given the political climate in the United States today.

Trump ascended to the highest office in the land with no previous political experience, few settled policy views, and a combative style that had created enemies in quarters not usual for political leaders…

In Washington today, the conventional wisdom holds that Trump is unlikely to finish 2017 with a strong record of policy accomplishments. Yet should he continue to learn how to work with a newly assertive Congress, he may defy that conventional wisdom…

…Trump would be wise to keep in mind that there is no stronger force in American politics than a unified Congress, by the design of the Constitution’s framers. In light of recent decades of congressional passivity, that may be difficult to remember. But if the administration heads down a path that majorities in both political parties oppose, Trump could confront a unified Congress, a body that possesses far more constitutional power than the presidency.

When Congress rises to its full height and decides to act, it is fitted with the most expansive powers of any institution in the U.S. government…


Jeff Bergner

Lecturer, Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy

(photo courtesy The Virginian-Pilot)