Trump on a streak with court rulings, vacancy, summit plan
WASHINGTON — A Supreme Court vacancy just fell in his lap, offering a chance to shape the court for decades. The current court handed him two favorable rulings in a single week. And there’s a Russia summit on the horizon, promising headlines for a week or more. President Donald Trump is enjoying quite a hot streak.
Some of the good news is not of his making. Still, a series of welcome events has given the president a reprieve from images of migrant children being separated from their families at the border, as well as negative headlines about administrative chaos implementing his hardline immigration policies.
Trump sought to keep the good vibes going Friday with an event marking the six-month anniversary of his tax cuts.
“We are bringing back our beautiful American dreams,” Trump declared, as he used a celebratory East Room event with top aides and business owners to showcase the $1.5 trillion tax package passed last December.
He called recent growth an “economic miracle,” though there’s credit to be shared: Lower unemployment, fewer claims for jobless benefits and many other positive economic indicators reflect the slow and steady nine-year recovery that began under President Barack Obama.
Trump’s tax cuts will add a hefty dose of debt-financed stimulus to the economy. Government agencies and outside analysts estimate the tax cuts will temporarily boost growth in 2018 and 2019, then fade as the national debt mounts.
Looking ahead, Trump is expected to announce his nominee to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court and hold a highly anticipated sit-down with Russian President Vladimir Putin — both events he will treat with his customary flair for building suspense. His recent summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un won him buckets of TV coverage highlighting his stature on the world stage.
Trump relished his moment speaking to reporters on Air Force One Friday evening. Of the Supreme Court opening, he said: “It is exciting though, right? From day one, I’ve heard outside of war and peace, of course, the most important decision you make is the selection of a Supreme Court judge — if you get it.”
During his tumultuous presidency, Trump has had plenty of frustrations and setbacks. He watched his hoped-for repeal of the Obamacare health care law go down to defeat, acknowledged his lawyer’s payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about her allegations of an affair — which he denied — and grappled with the federal investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election. But he has consistently maintained backing from bedrock supporters.
Overall, 41 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 57 percent disapprove, according to a recent Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey. That rating has held steady since March.
Still, Jon Meacham, a presidential historian, said a lesson of the past 18 months is that Trump has a tendency “to create a distracting drama of his own making that tends to distract and detract from what we consider typical political momentum.” He said the coming weeks will pose “an interesting test of whether there’s enough discipline to go from strength to strength.”
In Wisconsin this week, Trump said: “We’re passing so much. Look at what’s happening with our Supreme Court. Look at the victories we’ve had. Look at the victories we’ve had.”
Filling a Supreme Court vacancy is a welcome opportunity for any president. The retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy gives Trump the ability to lock in a conservative majority that could endure long after his presidency has ended.
After Trump’s sweeping tax overhaul, his successful nomination of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the court last year was his most significant achievement, affirming the unifying role that Supreme Court politics have played for Republicans. Trump can thank Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky for keeping the court seat open during the last year of Obama’s presidency.
He also benefits from good timing in Kennedy’s decision to step down at this moment. If Kennedy had stayed for another term, Trump would have had a harder time using the issue to fire up his base of conservatives in the midterm elections.
With Gorsuch in place, the high court has been particularly generous to Trump’s causes of late. Just this week, the justices upheld his travel ban on visitors from several majority Muslim countries and followed that up with a ruling on union fees that was long sought by conservatives.
In recent weeks, the president also has stoked a contentious trade dialogue with U.S. allies at the Group of Seven summit in Quebec and pushed ahead with plans to impose steep tariffs on Chinese goods.
Former White House strategist Steve Bannon sums it up as a banner time for the president’s agenda: “In past two weeks the G-7, the economic confrontation with China, the travel ban, the border and the Supreme Court vacancy, among other events, crystalize the vital and historic nature of Trump’s presidency.”
Trump’s political fortunes also improved this week with a series of primary elections. He decided to go all-in for South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, one of his earliest supporters, holding a rally in the state just hours before a tight runoff election. After Trump’s rally, McMaster cruised to victory.
And Trump picked up a win of sorts in a congressional district in his hometown of New York. Rep. Joe Crowley, a member of the House Democratic leadership team viewed as a potential House speaker, was defeated in his primary campaign by 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a former Bernie Sanders campaign organizer.
The sudden rise of Ocasio-Cortez helps Trump paint Democrats with a broad brush, identifying them as supporters of socialist health care and economic policies.
There are still plenty of storm clouds on his horizon. The Russia probe continues, and there could be further fallout on immigration. Financial markets, jittery over tariffs and health care premiums, could decline before the election.
More immediately, there are concerns the upcoming NATO summit could turn contentious, like Trump’s recent showdown at the G-7. And there are worries he could give up too much in his meeting next month with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
“He’s like the guy you play a board game with and it’s a game of luck and no matter what, he wins. We all know somebody like that,” said Republican consultant Rick Tyler. But he added that Trump’s luck also changes: “He’ll have a good week and then he’ll have a bad week.”
Trump has long believed in good fortune. In his book “The Art of the Deal,” he wrote that in real estate, “What you need, generally, is enough time and a little luck.”
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Josh Boak contributed to this report.
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