Campaign 2016

E&E Daily's Cahlink talks uphill climb for Trump in Congress

As a Donald Trump GOP nomination becomes increasingly likely, will the Republican front-runner begin to gain support on Capitol Hill? On today's The Cutting Edge, E&E Daily reporter George Cahlink discusses the impact Trump's energy and environment agenda could have on members of Congress as they consider whom to support in the presidential race.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. As a Trump nomination becomes increasingly likely, will the front-runner begin to gain support from Republicans on Capitol Hill? E&E Daily's George Cahlink has been talking to members of Congress all week to try to better understand if views are changing. George, why doesn't Trump's stance on climate change, EPA, energy seem to be swaying members of Congress to support him?

George Cahlink: Well, that's a great question, Monica. Thanks for asking that. I've talked to a lot of people on Capitol Hill this week about what they think about Trump, and I think that on the policy issues like climate change, like the -- like abolishing the EPA, like Keystone pipeline, it's not that Trump is out of sync with the party. It's that he really hasn't offered any specifics. He says, "Let's abolish the EPA," but he doesn't really explain what that means. He hates climate change. He calls it mystical. He has all sorts of phrasing that he uses for climate change. That doesn't really explain what he would do to change current regulations for clean air or clean water.

On the Keystone pipeline, like a lot of Republicans, he wants it built, but then he adds that he wants Canada to pay us for allowing it to pass through our country. But he says very general things, and I think that most Republicans on the Hill at this point are not even focused on his policies or lack thereof. They're more focused on him and sort of the, at times, boorish things he's saying that they're worried are going to cost them the general election. So I think a lot of lawmakers at this point aren't focused on our policies. They're concerned about what his nomination could do to their party.

Monica Trauzzi: At last night's debate, the candidates all said that eventually they would all support whoever the nominee is. Ultimately, is that what we'll see from Congress as well? Will there be this shift?

George Cahlink: Well, you know, it's an interesting question. First of all, when you talk -- when you go up to any senator or member of Congress and mention Donald Trump, they immediately become uncomfortable. There's sighs, they roll their eyes, some of them run away from you. But you know, right now, Trump has as many senators vowing to vote against him as supporting him. Jeff Sessions is the one senator from Alabama, he supports Donald Trump. Ben Sasse from Nebraska came out with an op-ed in the past week that said Republicans need a third-party candidate who's a true conservative if Trump wins it. I don't think we know yet, but I think also ... made the point to me that as we saw with Chris Christie, politicians are very adroit. There's a sense that Trump's ... nomination, if come July he's within, you know, 5 points of Hillary, I would not be surprised to see the party eventually get behind him and most senators get behind him.

Monica Trauzzi: You alluded to this trickle down earlier. How concerned are Republican lawmakers that a Trump nomination could shift the balance of the Senate?

George Cahlink: Well, you know, of course the Senate is a real battleground this year. There's 24 Republican seats on the ballot this year versus 10 for the Democrats. So the Republicans, they hold the Senate now by four seats, but if -- but they could very well lose that, and Trump hurts them. You look at some of the swing states -- Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin -- these are states where Republicans are really worried that putting Trump at the top of the ticket could really hurt their Senate candidates. The House less so, the way the sort of congressional lines have been drawn tend to very strongly favor incumbents, so it would take a massive wave, and that may not even happen, to allow Democrats to take back the House.

Monica Trauzzi: But what about Speaker Ryan? Is he potentially vulnerable if Trump wins?

George Cahlink: I'm not sure that Speaker Ryan would be vulnerable. I think what's interesting about Ryan is you look at his comments, he's, you know ... at every press conference, he's asked what do you think about the GOP primary, and almost always his answer is, "I don't do primaries. Not getting into it. I'll support the party of my nominee." This week at his press conference, he came out, wasn't asked the question, started off by saying, "It was wrong for a candidate of my party to be associated with David Duke and the KKK," clearly referring to Donald Trump without naming him. Also notable that Ryan made the point that he remains a good friend of Mitt Romney, who he ran with in 2012 on the national ticket. Romney this week came out very critical of Trump. Ryan again said he's neutral in the fight, but his comments there, his friendship with Romney would suggest he probably has some pretty strong feelings on it. I'm not sure at this point there is any immediate blow-back for Ryan. The interesting dynamic, of course, is if Trump did win, he would be working with Ryan as speaker, and that would be, you know, fascinating to see if they could get along. You could leave Ryan in the role of really being the nominal leader of the Republican Party. You know, Trump would probably be viewed more as an independent-type candidate, and Ryan might well be the one, if Democrats in the Senate who's the leading Republican in town.

Monica Trauzzi: So many moving parts. Thank you for coming on the show. Great work this week.

George Cahlink: Thank you. It was nice to be here.

Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.

[End of Audio]

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