Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to members of the media during a news briefing Nov. 16 after the weekly Senate GOP policy luncheon at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to members of the media during a news briefing Nov. 16 after the weekly Senate GOP policy luncheon at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

President-elect Donald Trump spent much of his campaign pledging to unravel President Barack Obama’s signature legislation – including the Affordable Care Act, the Trans Pacific Partnership and a landmark nuclear agreement with Iran. Now, as Trump prepares to take office, Obama is rushing to protect as much of his regulatory legacy as he can. Meanwhile, in the final weeks of its lame duck session, Congress will need to agree on a budget to avoid a government shutdown. And lawmakers are hoping to settle legislation on issues like mental health before the change of power in January. What Congress can get done in its lame-duck session—and President Obama’s efforts to protect his legacy.


  • Ed O'Keefe Reporter, The Washington Post
  • Susan Page Washington bureau chief, USA Today
  • Norman Ornstein Resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute; co-author of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism"


  • 10:20:02

    MS. DIANE REHMAnd welcome back. We turn now to look at the final weeks of Congress and the Obama administration. Here in the studio, Ed O'Keefe, reporter at The Washington Post, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief at USA Today, and Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. And we will be taking your calls for the rest of the hour. Join us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to Follow us on Twitter, or join us on Facebook. Norm, Susan, Ed, it's good to see you all.

  • 10:20:45

    MS. SUSAN PAGEHey, great to be here.

  • 10:20:45

    MR. ED O'KEEFEGreat to be with you.

  • 10:20:47

    MR. NORMAN ORNSTEINNice to see you, too, Diane.

  • 10:20:48

    REHMSusan, there are lots of things Congress should do or could do in the final weeks. What must it do?

  • 10:20:55

    PAGEWell the one thing that it must do is pass some kind of spending bill because government runs out of money on December 9, just next week. It seems pretty clear Congress will do this. The only question is how long will they do it -- do a continuing resolution, a funding bill that'll last until February or to March or maybe even to May. But what we know is it's going to be a rather short-term funding bill that kind of kicks the issues of federal spending down the road to the new Congress.

  • 10:21:21

    PAGEA couple other things it could do, but that's the one thing it must do.

  • 10:21:25

    REHMAll right, and Ed, what's so important about that short-term funding for Republicans?

  • 10:21:30

    O'KEEFEWell I mean, it keeps the lights on, obviously, across the federal government and the question of whether it goes to March or May I think really starts to lay the groundwork for how ambitious and how aggressive the early month of the Trump presidency and the Republican control will be because if you let it go all the way to May, you may be running on autopilot, and it may be that they have a sense that it's going to take until May to really get some big stuff done.

  • 10:21:52

    O'KEEFEOr if you set it up until March, it sort of puts a marker out there and says you have until march to really sort out a budget, sort out really what your agency priorities are going to be, your big ones, at least, and see if there's any other ambitious legislation that you can get rolling that you can put a price tag on and make part of some kind of a spending agreement to finish out the fiscal year that will end in September and set up for the next one that will begin next fall.

  • 10:22:19


  • 10:22:19

    ORNSTEINSo it's an interesting dynamic, Diane, because the dispute here over time is one thing. The dispute over the numbers is within the Republican Party. And it's a Freedom Caucus that's been furious that the budget for the year, the appropriations and spending for the year, basically didn't include the sequester numbers. In other words, it didn't slash spending the way the agreement was originally supposed to.

  • 10:22:46

    ORNSTEINThis was a deal really worked out by John Boehner just before he left the speakership to Paul Ryan, and there's been a festering anger among the radical caucus on the Republican side. And now Ryan is going to have to figure out how he can keep his own troops together. And at this point the Democrats in Congress don't have much of an incentive to provide votes to the Republicans as we look ahead.

  • 10:23:14

    ORNSTEINSo what Democrats had hoped with a Clinton presidency, if they'd gotten it, was that they could reach a deal to get the spending to go for the entire year so that we could then have the battle next year. Now we're going to see a series of battles. But there's also -- I think the Republicans would prefer to do this in the short run because what they want to do when they have the new Congress is this massive reconciliation package where they can make all of their priorities for a longer period of time emerge. They'd like to kick the can down the road.

  • 10:23:45


  • 10:23:46

    PAGEJust one other thing to note about the timing of this spending bill is we think there would have to be a vote to raise the federal debt ceiling probably in March. So if you make the spending bill coincide with the federal debt ceiling vote, that could create some real issues, especially on the Republican side, where there'll be some Republicans, including perhaps people in the White House, who are not so concerned about the federal debt but some more traditional conservative Republicans who want to make an issue of that.

  • 10:24:10

    REHMEd, there's apparently bipartisan support for what's called the 21st Century Cures Act. What's that all about? What does it include?

  • 10:24:22

    O'KEEFEThis is a big medical research bill, as I recall. I'll admit I haven't spent that much time looking at it. But it's the kind of maybe bipartisan bookend that you could put on an otherwise mostly uneventful session of Congress and certainly a very partisan one, where you saw both parties in both chambers more concerned about what happened four weeks ago than they were really about legislating.

  • 10:24:46

    O'KEEFEThis has some money for cancer research, among other things.

  • 10:24:48


  • 10:24:49

    O'KEEFEThere have been different proposals sort of festering for years in both chambers, and they see this as an attempt to get some of that out the door. Some of it frankly, as I recall, a nod to the work that Vice President Biden has tried to do since the death of his son. And again, I think it's a good way to spark some bipartisan cooperation on the way out.

  • 10:25:09

    ORNSTEINDiane, this was one of the proudest achievements of the House in this last year, bitter, difficult, partisan divides on most things. This bill passed out of the Commerce Committee in the House, the Energy and Commerce Committee, unanimously. It was put together by the chairman Fred Upton, the Republican, together with his counterpart, Diana DeGette of Colorado, the Democrat. It -- but it's a tradeoff.

  • 10:25:34

    ORNSTEINIt is more money for the National Institutes of Health in return for expediting drug approvals at the FDA, and it passed overwhelmingly in the House. There was some controversy about it because a number of people, especially some on the left, are uneasy about giving more authority to the FDA and to drug companies, but it's got broad enough bipartisan support that it's one of the few things we could imagine getting through with near unanimity.

  • 10:26:04

    REHMThere's been lots of talk about the trans-Pacific trade agreement. Where's that going, Susan?

  • 10:26:12

    PAGESo just look at this lame duck session and how different it is from what we thought it might be because there was a thought that if Hillary Clinton won the White House, if Democrats also won control of the Senate, that Republicans might unite with the Obama White House to pass -- approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That is not going to happen. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is dead, at least in its current form.

  • 10:26:33

    PAGEPresident-elect Trump has said on his first day he'll get rid of it. One other thing to note, there had also been speculation, and we don't know if this would've worked out, but that if Clinton had won the White House, Democrats had won the Senate, that Merrick Garland might have been confirmed for the Supreme Court on the Republican's theory that whoever Hillary Clinton as president was going to name was going to be more liberal and less acceptable to them.

  • 10:26:57

    PAGEThat stuff isn't going to happen. You know, you look at the spending bill, maybe the Defense Policy Bill will pass, possibly this medical legislation. When you get past that, it's very hard to see this lame-duck Congress doing anything.

  • 10:27:08

    REHMSo we talked earlier about Fidel Castro, his death. Will the Congress do anything on the Cuban embargo?

  • 10:27:19

    O'KEEFEI think if anything they'd try to roll back or toughen what the president has already done on his own. Anyone who thinks that the embargo has any shot of being lifted needs to remember that there are three strident critics of the Castro regime sitting in the Senate right now who would hold it up themselves, Bob Menendez, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who could all put a stop on it, a hold on it, and they have done so essentially when it comes to embassy funding and the thought of an ambassador being nominated.

  • 10:27:49

    O'KEEFEI think a lot of this will have to take cues from the Trump administration itself. Certainly there is support in Congress, in both chambers, to do something to ease the embargo or lift the embargo because so many agricultural states, especially, see Cuba as a real marketplace. And frankly states that rely on tourism or have large airports I think are eager to see it opened up. You've seen most of the large airports in Florida, I've flown to them in the last year, are very eager to see flights resume and flights be allowed.

  • 10:28:20

    O'KEEFEToday the first commercial flight between Miami and Havana was scheduled to take off, coincidentally. I was in the Miami airport Friday before the announcement, on my way back from vacation, and there was a flight a few gates away to another part of Cuba. It's happening, and I think there will be resistance certainly in the lodging and the travel and the construction industries, who are all obviously very close to Donald Trump...

  • 10:28:45

    REHMTo then turn it back.

  • 10:28:46

    O'KEEFETo do something, to do something, to open it up, to find a way. And we've hear the president-elect, we heard Senator Rubio and Senator Cruz over the weekend saying the only way that happens is if we draw concessions from the Cuban government, who has also laid down a marker and said they're only going to completely resume unless you ever give up Guantanamo Bay, the military base there. So...

  • 10:29:05

    REHMSo is that the big concession?

  • 10:29:08

    O'KEEFENo, no, I think the big concession would be elections, would be freedom of the press, freedom of movement, the ability to make money as a Cuban citizen, and we're nowhere near that happening, it looks like.

  • 10:29:18

    REHMSo what you're saying is that Donald Trump is saying he could roll back that free travel, that open access, if Raul does not put into place all these new reforms?

  • 10:29:34

    ORNSTEINYeah, and of course the first tweet from Donald Trump, which is the way the new president is communicating with the American people, was a very deep one. Fidel Castro is dead!! But he's also suggested, as many of his allies have that they're going to shut the door here. I don't think it's going to be so easy to shut the door, for some of the reasons that Ed suggested.

  • 10:29:58

    ORNSTEINThere's an interesting larger dynamic here, Diane. Right now there are limits to what Congress can do if it's a Republican Congress trying to push things through in the final weeks because we have Barack Obama, who will veto anything that he finds unappealing or unattractive. At the same time you have more Republicans in Congress now than you will when Donald Trump becomes president. You're going to have nine or so fewer Republicans in the House, two fewer in the Senate, and if they're going to build their majorities with Republicans alone, they've got some work to do.

  • 10:30:35

    ORNSTEINAnd of course there is still, at least for now and probably for a while, a filibuster that Democrats can use in the Senate. So the appetite to do a lot now is limited, I think as Susan suggested. There will be a little more. I think we're going to get a mental health reform bill that is diluted from what it could be and I think should be but is still a breakthrough but not much beyond that.

  • 10:30:56

    ORNSTEINAnd one other interesting issue, which we can talk about a bit, is the criminal justice reform, which has broad bipartisan support, but some strident critics like Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who have blocked it almost unilaterally. This would be a great opportunity to do that before Trump comes in, and it'll be interesting to see if there's any push on that front, probably not.

  • 10:31:20

    PAGEI would really be surprised. Another big critics of that bill is Jeff Sessions, who is about to become the attorney general. You know, I can't imagine there'll be big action on Cuba policy before the new Congress takes over, but at that point we don't know what's going to happen because we've had mixed signals from President-elect Trump about what he intends to do on Cuba policy.

  • 10:31:37

    PAGEAnd on Cuba, as on some other things, President Obama used his executive authority to enact big changes in U.S. policy, and that means that executive authority can be used to undo it or change it.

  • 10:31:46

    REHMHow different is this transition in the Congress and the lame duck session from other lame duck sessions?

  • 10:31:58

    O'KEEFEWell selfishly, as somebody who was assigned to The Hill, what we're most please by is that the end date appears to be December 16 or sooner. So our Christmas is saved. But it's -- you know, it's just as fast and just as sort of ordinary up there as it would normally be. As Norm said, there will be fewer Republicans on the margins, which may make a difference in difficult votes later on, but -- and I marveled -- they posed the faces of the new senators and the new senators' spouses last week, when they were all up there, the week before Thanksgiving, and I noted that there were more husbands than wives in the Senate spouses column.

  • 10:32:41


  • 10:32:43

    O'KEEFEBecause four women have been elected into the Senate that will be joining up in January. So that's, you know, one little -- one little sign of progress. The only other sort of thing out there to keep an eye on this week, certainly, and how it would affect next year and frankly the 2018 elections potentially, is the re-election of Nancy Pelosi.

  • 10:33:02


  • 10:33:03

    O'KEEFEAnd we can get into that now, or we can save it for later, but it will signal potentially is the continued, really, strong, if only privately expressed, displeasure of the dwindling numbers in the House Democratic Caucus that after 14 years perhaps it's time for a change in leadership, not only from her but from her deputies.

  • 10:33:23

    REHMEd O'Keefe of the Washington Post, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. What about Nancy Pelosi? How safe is her position, Susan?

  • 10:33:39

    PAGEWell, she's campaigning for this pretty hard. So that must indicate that she thinks there is some risk here I think not that she's going to lose the vote, I think that'd be a surprise, I'd be interested if Ed agrees with that, but that the -- enough members, Democratic members would vote against her for it to be embarrassing and a sign that there is a real appetite among Democrats in the House for new leadership.

  • 10:34:04

    REHMAnd that new leadership would be because...

  • 10:34:05

    ORNSTEINI think it's a couple of things. There's frustration that they've not picked up the seats that they expected that they would. Not very many Democrats thought that they could win the House, but they thought that they could gain 20 seats, 15 to 20, and it was less than that. And that's not because of the leadership in the House, there are larger forces at work here, but there's also a sense that we've lost elections, we've lost enormous ground during the Obama years. Just as in sports where the first thing you do is fire the manager, even if the fault is in the players or the conditions or the referees or whatever it might be, there's some of that.

  • 10:34:45

    ORNSTEINI think it's fairly limited, and one of the reasons -- and one of the things Pelosi has done is to now bring in, in response to this discontent, some younger people into other positions in the leadership. But Pelosi is extraordinarily tough and has been able to pull her troops together as an opposition force. That becomes even more important in the Trump years, and that will I think keep her coalition together. So there may be an embarrassment here, you may see 20 or 30 or 40 members who will vote against her in the conference, but I'd be stunned if she lost her leadership position.

  • 10:35:20

    REHMWhat about Tim Ryan? How strong is he?

  • 10:35:24

    O'KEEFESo Tim Ryan is this congressman from Ohio.

  • 10:35:25

    REHMThe challenger.

  • 10:35:26

    O'KEEFEWho is challenging Nancy Pelosi. He says he has a sizable chunk of the caucus with him. We haven't necessarily seen the evidence of that, besides a few members who have publicly endorsed him. But what he's doing really is channeling the frustrations of what are increasingly younger, ambitious members, many of them military veterans, women, minorities, who feel that for the last dozen-or-so years, things have been run in a way that merit change.

  • 10:35:58

    O'KEEFEAnd part of this is geographic. Remember Nancy Pelosi is from California. Many of the people who have served in her leadership team are also from California. This week at least two of them will be installed into these positions, likely, and, you know, folks from the Midwest, from the Northeast, from the inner western states, say you've got to give us a seat at the table, and you've got to be selling the Democratic vision to our constituents in neighboring districts so that we can somehow start to pick them off.

  • 10:36:27

    O'KEEFEAnd to Norm's point, how can you continue rewarding her and her team when you only got six seats, and she looked me in the eye a few months ago and said she thought at some point they could probably win up to 30. So, you know, whether there's anyone else, though, to challenge her, and whether Tim Ryan is that person, I think there's a lot of doubt about that. But he's trying, and if he doesn't, there's some thought that what he's doing here is setting himself up to run to succeed John Kasich as governor in Ohio or maybe one day to run for the Senate.

  • 10:36:55

    O'KEEFEHe's been asked to do this before, and I think what he's starting to see here is perhaps it may make more sense to explore options outside the House, and that's the feeling of a lot of these younger House Democrats, who haven't had a chance to move up.

  • 10:37:06

    PAGEYou know, all that said, I think you'd have to say that Nancy Pelosi has been a pretty successful and very skilled leader of Democrats both in times when they've been in the minority and times when they've been in the majority. And she was also, of course, the first woman, the only woman ever to serve as speaker. So certainly she's got an impressive record whatever happens on Wednesday.

  • 10:37:26

    REHMSusan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today. When we come back, we'll open the phones, take your calls, comments, questions. Stay with us.

  • 10:40:02

    REHMWelcome back. Here in the studio, Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief of USA Today, Norman Ornstein, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. And Ed O'Keefe, reporter for the Washington Post. I have the feeling that people are rather slow after the four day holiday weekend, but you are invited to give us a call. 800-433-8850. In the meantime, Norm, we have an email from Michael who says, is it true the administration is creating midnight regulations? If so, are they contrary to President Obama's pledge to make the transition smooth?

  • 10:41:01

    ORNSTEINI'm sure there will be some regulations done towards the end, and we'll probably see another flood of clemencies and pardons, which happens at the end of every administration. I have seen no sign of some mad rush for last minute regulations that would dramatically change things. In part, because the regulatory process is a cumbersome one. You have to, if you're going to do regulations, you have to put them out on the federal registry. You have to allow time for comment and the like.

  • 10:41:30

    ORNSTEINSo this is a bit of canard. What we have seen in past presidencies, and I suspect we'll see a little bit of this with Obama, is things like getting more public lands off limits for drilling or other kinds of activities. Taking areas and making them pristine, making them federal preserves. That’s happened a fair amount in the past. He may try and do something that will make it a little more difficult for Trump to unravel the climate change accords. But you're not going to see a whole lot done.

  • 10:42:04

    ORNSTEINAnd I think what we have seen is the president is trying very much to get on Donald Trump's good side to convince him that dramatic change would be very disruptive and pretty stupid.

  • 10:42:17

    REHMBut you know, earlier this year, President Obama called for audacious action by the organizations around Washington. What did he mean by that? Audacious executive action.

  • 10:42:35

    PAGEWell, President Obama, you remember, also during the campaign, said his legacy was at stake with this vote. If you don't vote for me, he said to audience after audience, nothing we've done for the past eight years will survive. And now that his chosen candidate lost the Electoral College vote, he has changed his tune on that to the point that Norm was making, in that he is now facing a very different situation after his Presidency is over. And one of the -- you know, you asked Ed what's different about this transition from previous ones.

  • 10:43:06

    PAGEHere's one thing that's different about this Presidential transition from previous ones, even though they were at fierce odds with each other. And even though opposition to Obama really defined Donald Trump's rise in politics. We now see the President seeing an opportunity to persuade Donald Trump to keep some things. In their first conversation, for instance, they talked about the Affordable Care Act. And Donald Trump came out of that meeting saying maybe he would rethink some of his opposition to popular elements of the Affordable Care Act.

  • 10:43:34

    PAGESo you see a very different approach by President Obama in his effort to keep as much of his legacy intact as possible.

  • 10:43:42

    O'KEEFEAnd apparently, according to aides who were on Sunday morning shows yesterday, Trump and Obama had a 45 minute call on Saturday. We don't know what they discussed, but it could have been anything from where do I find the cutlery in the kitchen to the White House to what should I do about Cuba?

  • 10:43:59

    PAGEI'm betting on the second thing, not the first.

  • 10:44:01


  • 10:44:02

    ORNSTEINOr, I've got a slice in my golf game.

  • 10:44:03


  • 10:44:03


  • 10:44:04

    ORNSTEINCan you help me with that?

  • 10:44:04


  • 10:44:05

    O'KEEFEYou know, we don't know and we may never know. But they are talking, and their teams are talking to some extent as well. And I think the President's calculation must be that the more I get him on the phone, the better I can gauge how seriously he's taking this, how well he understands it. Perhaps he can then assuage his own aides and his supporters and say look, he's asking questions. We are talking about things. I am potentially trying to convince him to keep certain things intact.

  • 10:44:32

    O'KEEFEAnd you know, even if there are midnight regulations, Michael, this Trump administration may have such a hard time getting started that they may not even be able to respond or catch some of these changes right away. It may take them a little while to try to go back and reverse them if they're having struggles at the start, you know, with the new government.

  • 10:44:51

    REHMAn email from Lynn in Edwardsville, Illinois. Donald Trump has said the law's totally on my side, meaning the President cannot have a conflict of interest. What are the chances the lame duck session would pass a conflict of interest law pertaining to the President and Vice-President, Norm?

  • 10:45:21

    ORNSTEINSo, E.J. Dionne has a quite powerful column in the Washington Post today. With all the things that Republicans in the House and Senate have said about the outrageous conflicts of interest they saw with Hillary Clinton, and saying, we assume you're going to take on this issue in the same way with somebody who has much deeper ones with Donald Trump. The chances of that, as George W. Bush would say, slim to none and slim just left the building. Now, it's true that the conflict of interest, regulations that we codified in law some years ago in the George H.W. Bush administration do exempt the President and Vice-President.

  • 10:45:59

    ORNSTEINOn the assumption that no President would do outrageous things with his holdings. But it's also important to remember that there are two emolument clauses in the Constitution, not just one. There's one in Article 1 about getting anything of value from a foreign government. There's also one in Article 2, which says that a President's compensation can be neither raised nor lowered during his term, but he cannot accept any other...

  • 10:46:27


  • 10:46:28

    ORNSTEIN...emolument or thing of value from the federal government or the states. So, Donald Trump, who now wants to charge three million dollars a year in rent to the Secret Service for Trump Tower accessibility, two floors, or the Secret Service for using his Trump plane when his family's on it, that would be unconstitutional. And we're going to see whether we have a court that will accept a suit, which I'm sure will be filed and get standing. There's going to be a lot of dynamics surrounding Trump's conflicts going forward.

  • 10:47:07

    ORNSTEINAnd the real question is whether, not the lame duck, but the next Congress, will hold hearings, will hold him accountable, will do anything in terms of oversight.

  • 10:47:16

    REHMYou know what, that says to me that you might get nothing done in even the next Congress.

  • 10:47:28

    O'KEEFEExactly. That's, that's the thing. I think a lot of people who sit here thinking, oh my goodness, there's going to be revolutionary change by St. Patrick's Day needs to remember that no, not necessarily. Republicans will be squabbling with themselves. If the President-elect doesn't sort these types of things out, there are going to be legal suits, there are going to Democrats up on Capitol Hill demanding hearings, or, you know, some kind of accountability. And, you know, he has about 56 days or so to sort that out and demonstrate that he has addressed those concerns.

  • 10:48:00

    PAGEYou know, let me just disagree a bit, which is there are lots of reasons it will be hard for the new Congress to move forward on big legislation. Are things that just upend what President Obama -- policies President Obama's pursued for the past eight years. But Republicans now control the White House, the House and the Senate. And I do think that they feel some -- the necessity of taking action on some of the things that they promised. And they probably won't be able to -- they surely won't be able to deliver on everything they promised. But I think there will be a concerted effort on their part to deliver on some of the things that put them in that position of power.

  • 10:48:32

    REHMLet me just open the phones. We do have a caller in Granger, Indiana. Barbara, you're on the air.

  • 10:48:42

    BARBARAYes, good morning, panel. Diane, we're going to miss you sorely.

  • 10:48:46

    REHMThank you.

  • 10:48:47

    BARBARAYes. I wanted to ask about the 59 federal judge seats that are open. Can Obama fill any of those in the interim?

  • 10:48:55

    O'KEEFENo. Not unless the Senate confirms them, and I scanned that list last week. There's a fair number of them that are open and you know, it will be incumbent on the Trump presidency to reappoint those positions. Mitch McConnell has said that, you know, a Supreme Court nominee and filling judicial vacancies are one of his top four priorities in the new year. And that is one way that Congress could move quickly on a host of issues, is packing the federal judiciary with Republican appointees.

  • 10:49:23

    ORNSTEINAnd remember that Democrats changed the filibuster rule for executive and judicial nominations except for the Supreme Court. So those can be done with a majority. However, you have to do them individually and it still takes a fair amount of time. My guess is that we will see no judges going through now and then we're going to see a concerted effort. If you look at the vacancies existing now, a Trump administration could, actually, over a period of four years, get majorities on most of the appeals courts, which is an extraordinarily important thing.

  • 10:49:58

    ORNSTEINOne word I want to mention again Diane that listeners should keep in mind, is reconciliation. This is a term that Republicans vilified when the Affordable Care Act saw it used to push it through. Of course, it had been used before on the Bush Tax Cuts and many other things. But this is the one opportunity to pass something other than a confirmation through both Houses of Congress without a filibuster. Now it's supposed to be things related to the budget. You cannot increase deficits or debt in theory. I expect a mammoth reconciliation package.

  • 10:50:37

    ORNSTEINIt's going to include massive tax cuts, probably some tax reform. They're going to try and do something on the Affordable Care Act in this. Repeal probably with a delay of a couple of years. They may try and do their big infrastructure package as part of this. They're going to do a lot of changes in federal programs. It wouldn't surprise me that they basically get rid of the national endowments for the humanities and arts, which has been a goal of conservatives for a very long period of time. Cut food stamps and turn Medicaid into a block grant program and cut it 30 or 40 percent.

  • 10:51:14

    ORNSTEINSo this, and there it's a question of if you've got 52 Republican Senators, and you're going to get no Democratic votes for that, will three of them decide that they're not going to go along with that? How much can you put into this one massive package without losing your support?

  • 10:51:30

    O'KEEFEAnd if they vote for such a massive package, they're hypocrites because they didn't want to vote for massive packages over the last few years when Obama tried to get them through. So, I don't suspect everything Norm just mentioned would be in something like that, but I certainly think tax reform and some of the earlier items would be. Infrastructure is something that's really going to trip them up if the President tries to do it. Democrats are eager to get something like that done. Donald Trump and Chuck Schumer share a real concern about the current state of LaGuardia Airport, for example up in New York.

  • 10:51:59

    O'KEEFEAnd that's just the start of it. But Republicans, from Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell on down have real concerns about how something like that would be paid for.

  • 10:52:06

    REHMBut I want to go back to something you said, Norm. Are you saying here that right now, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, are high on his, on Trump's list for getting rid of?

  • 10:52:29

    ORNSTEINLook, let's be honest, Diane. President-elect Trump probably doesn't even know what the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts are. He is policy free, by and large. But his allies in Congress, and not just his allies. Republicans in Congress have wanted for a long time, to really take a hatchet to the discretionary domestic component of the budget. They want to have a big defense increase to go along with these gigantic tax cuts. So, you're going to have to balance that in some fashion with other budget cuts.

  • 10:53:03

    ORNSTEINAnd it's likely to be food stamps, Medicaid, and some of these other programs. And I just have little doubt that the endowments are going to be on the list.

  • 10:53:13

    REHMAnd you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. Boy, would that be sad.

  • 10:53:20

    PAGEAnd, you know, Democrats who have been allies of the National Endowments for the Arts and for the Humanities are going to have some other fights on their hand. So, I think both sides are going to have to pick their shots on the things they are really willing to go to the mat on. And that means that some things that have been fights in the past maybe they will be less able and willing to really battle on those.

  • 10:53:43

    REHMLet's go to Jack in Rotunda, Florida. You're on the air.

  • 10:53:50

    JACKGood morning, everybody.

  • 10:53:51


  • 10:53:51

    JACKI have a comment and then a question. My comment is what makes you think that Trump is really going to fight for these grand ideas when he doesn't seem to have much core value in him. And the question is, why won't the Democrats, or why wouldn't the Democrats block these big, big items from coming up for a vote, just the way the Republicans had done for eight years?

  • 10:54:20

    O'KEEFESo, they haven't reserved, or they haven't ruled out doing that, but they haven't specified what would be, sort of, a marker for them to do that. Chuck Schumer, who I spoke with before the Thanksgiving holiday, said absolutely, they reserve that right. It's mostly on sacrosanct Democratic things, things like preserving Medicare, Social Security, the Affordable Care Act within reason. If they want to make changes, that's one thing. But abolishing it would be something that they would fight tooth and nail.

  • 10:54:45

    O'KEEFEThe threat, however, is that Republicans might try to do to Democrats what Democrats did to Republicans a few years ago, which is change the filibuster rules yet again. Right now, as Norm said, you only need 50 votes for legislation and for all but Supreme Court nominees. What Republicans have threatened is that, well, we might change it even more. We might get rid of it entirely. We might make that filibuster change apply to Supreme Court nominees. Or we might try to do something else to the rules of the Senate.

  • 10:55:10

    O'KEEFEDemocrats have threatened to do that to Republicans. They said Republicans were being obstructionist. The shoe's on the other foot now. And we could see that happen in the next few years. So that's the risk the Democrats would run in the Senate, but certainly, they hear you, Jack. And they reserve the right to do that kind of stuff.

  • 10:55:24

    REHMAll right, and one last quick call from Matt in Raleigh, North Carolina. You're on the air.

  • 10:55:31

    MATTHi, thanks for taking my call.

  • 10:55:33


  • 10:55:33

    MATTMy question is about the future of the Democratic Party because I'm originally from Ohio. I'm currently in North Carolina and I've seen family members and more and more people sort of just not believing the brand of the Democratic Party. And if they continue to lose elections, they might just disappear even as an opposition party. So, how, I mean, it seems like they just keep losing election after election.

  • 10:55:55

    PAGEMatt, you know, I think we thought there was going to be a civil war in the Republican Party after this election. With the unexpected results, I think we're seeing that battle more so in the Democratic Party over whether it should be -- become more progressive, whether it should really focus on the concerns of white working class people in places like Ohio. And I think this is a battle that we're going to be seeing for some time. It's not over yet.

  • 10:56:17

    REHMAll right. And saying it's not over yet brings me to the program we're doing tomorrow on the recount going on right now in Wisconsin. Where is that taking us, Norm?

  • 10:56:31

    ORNSTEINYou know, it's going to be fairly routine, I think, in a lot of ways. It could reverse the results in Wisconsin. It's possible. We've already seen about 5,000 votes for Trump that have been taken away because they weren't actually cast for Trump. But it's not going to change the outcome of the election. And when the Clinton team joined the Stein effort, saying we wouldn't have started this, but we want to have our hand in, they made it very clear that this was just to make sure.

  • 10:57:01

    ORNSTEINThat, for example, the discrepancies that we saw in Wisconsin between votes cast in counties that used electronic machines with those that did hand counting can be explained. They can be explained, but Trump now has taken this to Defcon 1 in a fashion that's just a little bizarre, frankly.

  • 10:57:19

    REHMNorman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. Ed O'Keefe of the Washington Post. Susan Page of USA Today. What a start. Thank you all for being here.

  • 10:57:36

    O'KEEFEGreat to be with you.

  • 10:57:36

    PAGEThank you.

  • 10:57:37

    ORNSTEINThank you, Diane.

  • 10:57:39

    REHMThanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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