national news & analysis

A Trump Trifecta

By Michael Jones

What a difference a debate makes.

Democrats went into the first presidential debate late last month confident that President Joe Biden would contrast his historic legislative record against former President Donald Trump’s single term in office and far-right vision for a second term in primetime for all the world to see. His supporters in Congress believed that if Biden debated Trump with the same vigor he delivered his State of the Union address in March, it would quell voter concerns that his advanced age would leave him too ineffective to lead the free world into his late eighties.

But the opposite happened. Biden got off to a slow start, fumbling his talking points, and appearing bewildered as Trump spouted falsehoods at an unprecedented clip. By the first commercial break, Democratic operatives were texting my phone with names of the darlings, many of whom are untested and unknown on the national stage, that they recommended the party replace the president at the top of the ticket. Some wondered how his staff allowed Biden to take the stage in anything less than tip-top shape.

The news cycle since has been dominated by a tug of war between Biden supporters and skeptics on whether he stays or goes—and his administration and campaign spent most of the days leading to and through Congress’s July 4th recess in damage control mode over the fallout from what they describe as a “bad night” instead of proof of the president’s declining mental acuity. Meanwhile, Republicans, for their part, have laid low—more than glad to talk about anything other than their presumptive nominee’s flaws and their unpopular policies.

As Congress returns to Washington and President Biden prepares to host dozens of world leaders in his backyard at this year’s NATO Summit, it’s wise to recognize that it’s not just the grim prospect of Donald Trump returning to the Oval Office that has Congressional Democrats so unsettled. There’s a palpable fear that Biden’s poor performance could be the turning point in a campaign that could adversely affect their mission to win back the House and hold the Senate, or at least keep GOP gains marginal. (Nine House Democrats have publicly or privately called for Biden to step down, although none of them from the influential Congressional Black Caucus. Recent polling shows Biden within the margin of error in most swing states—and even leading in two.)

In the worst-case scenario, Republicans will be able to ride Trump’s coattails to a governing trifecta—an electoral outcome where the GOP controls the presidency and both chambers of Congress, as it did the first two years of Trump’s term—that would empower the MAGA right to roll back major Biden wins and remake the government in his image to the detriment of women, Black and brown people and other folks from diverse communities.

But with control of at least one chamber, Democrats believe they could serve as a check on the harm of the GOP’s worst legislative priorities, many inspired by Project 2025, the agenda that Trump allies and former administration officials crafted for the second Trump presidency. (For a sense of how extreme it is, Trump tried to distance himself from Project 2025 last week.) Below is a primer to the three most dangerous proposals they’re afraid could become the law of the land if Biden loses to Trump in November.

The Trump tax cuts

President Trump’s defining economic achievement was a series of unpaid-for tax cuts he signed into law in 2017 that ballooned the federal deficit by $2 trillion and routed most of the benefits to wealthy individuals and big corporations. But the tax cuts are scheduled to expire—extending them is among the top priorities for Republicans.

They can do so under a GOP trifecta. In fact, the original Trump tax cuts were passed through a legislative mechanism called budget reconciliation that makes specific tax and spending bills exempt from the Senate’s 60-vote threshold required to defeat a filibuster. And Senate Republicans have withheld their support for a tax bill full of goodies for corporations that passed the House with 357 votes, including 188 Democrats, because they’re so confident they will win back the Senate. (Some Democrats opposed the House bipartisan tax bill because it’s less generous than the version passed in 2021, with some analysts estimating that corporations would receive $4 in tax breaks for every $1 for families.)

But suppose Democrats control one of the chambers. In that case, they can push for renewal of the expanded Child Tax Credit—one of President Biden’s most effective domestic policies that lifted almost half of American children out of poverty in six months. Most Republicans oppose the CTC as a government handout that discourages poor people from working. However, the data shows most families the benefit of paying for child care, school supplies, or other household bills.

Democrats have been working to re-approve the Child Tax Credit, but they say their efforts may be stalled for half a decade if Republicans take over the federal government in November. They fear Biden’s loss could tarnish the legacy of one of his most effective policies.

The Supreme Court

President Biden has told donors at recent private fundraisers that the next president will likely appoint at least two justices to the Supreme Court.

During his first term, Trump appointed not one, not two, but three justices to the high court. Those three selections joined the other three conservatives to overturn Roe v. Wade, grant Trump immunity from unlawful acts committed in his official capacity, and overrule the Chevron doctrine, which outlined when federal courts must defer to a government agency’s interpretation of a law or statute.

If Trump wins a second term, he could replace the two oldest and most conservative justices—Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito—with a tandem of 40-year-old jurists handpicked by the Federalist Society who could serve on the bench for three or four decades. But let’s say one of the three liberal justices steps down or passes away while still on the bench. Trump could replace them with conservatives, further entrenching their supermajority.

Democrats fear the Supreme Court could continue to roll back protections for contraception, same-sex intimacy, and same-sex marriage in future terms.

The landmark decisions that were once viewed as sacrosanct are in jeopardy in part due to how several controversial cases reach the high court now. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called for legislation to end the practice of judge shopping, in which conservative ideologues across the country pick and choose judges they know will be sympathetic to their cause. Democrats point to the practice to explain how a single district court judge in the Texas panhandle blocked a Biden administration rule on gun background checks from taking effect earlier this year and suspended the FDA’s approval of medication abortion before the Supreme Court unanimously restored access to the drug based on a technicality.

“Judge shopping jaundices our legal system like few other abuses do. Picking and choosing a judge to get a predetermined outcome is the definition of unfairness and Congress should fix this abuse with appropriate legislation,” Schumer said in May. “Even the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court—hardly a liberal—has acknowledged that judge shopping is a problem that ought to be addressed.”

Democrats argue that judge shopping matters less if Biden has the ability in a second term to rebalance the court’s conservative bent.

National abortion ban

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, Republicans claimed abortion was now a state’s rights issue. But in the 2024 appropriations process, House Republicans attached policy riders that would have restricted abortion care for military service members and cut funding for Planned Parenthood if not for a Democratic-controlled White House and Senate. Republicans could be successful in 2025 under a GOP trifecta.

But it’s not just the appropriations process that has Democrats shaken.

The Republican Study Committee—the largest ideological caucus in Congress of either party, of which 80 percent of House Republicans are members, including the party’s entire leadership—released a budget this spring that calls for passage of the Life at Conception Act. This legislation establishes conception as the beginning of human life, which would make abortion legal in all cases, even in blue states and including for patients impregnated through rape or incest. If budgets are statements of values, as lawmakers often say, then it’s clear that Republicans are uninterested in appreciating their flimsy state’s rights talking point on the issue of abortion.

But reproductive freedom advocates say Trump could institute a backdoor abortion ban without congressional action through a Project 2025 proposal to pressure the FDA to revisit and withdraw its initial approval of medication abortion—a door the Supreme Court left open in its ruling a few weeks ago—and force the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to adopt hostile messaging to birth control. It also provides a roadmap for the executive branch to misapply the Comstock Act, an 1873 anti-obscenity law that bans mail-order drugs and instruments related to abortion. The law, while not currently enforced, is still on the books, allowing it to be implemented under a Republican administration.

Michael Jones is an independent Capitol Hill correspondent and contributor for COURIER. He is the author of Once Upon a Hill, a newsletter about Congressional politics.

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