Nobody projects confidence like President Donald Trump, who won while promising to take American in a bold new direction by almost sheer force of will.
More than a month after taking office, though, no one seems to know exactly what direction he means. On three critical parts of his agenda — health care, tax reform and infrastructure — Trump has given limited or contradictory directions about what he expects Congress to do.
That puts pressure on the White House to fill in the blanks in his address to Congress at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday, which is traditionally a platform for laying out the president's policy wish list.
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"I don't think you can do big reforms without White House leadership and air cover," Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economist and longtime adviser to Republican leaders, told NBC News. "They have to establish priorities."
During the campaign, Trump's ambiguity was an asset. He frequently shifted his stance on policy, often without acknowledging any change at all, which left voters free to choose the answer that suited them and dismiss the rest as a bluff. Would Trump pay down the entire $19 trillion national debt in "a period of eight years?" Or did he think it was "a time to borrow and borrow long term" to boost military and infrastructure spending? Take your pick: He made both statements within three weeks of each other.
But that only works as long as you never have to make a final decision that disappoints one side. Now that he's won, Trump's bill is starting to come due.
The most immediate concern is health care. Trump made big promises before and after the election: "Insurance for everybody," "much lower deductibles," and zero cuts to Medicaid, the entitlement program for low-income Americans that the Affordable Care Act expanded.
What's happened so far? After initial talk of a rapid-fire repeal bill, House Republicans are gradually cobbling together a replacement plan that would likely cover fewer people than the Affordable Care Act, promote higher deductibles as a way to lower medical costs, and reduce Medicaid spending — all without a peep from Trump.
The Senate is moving at a slower pace, and some members are uniting behind a dramatically different plan that would preserve Obamacare in states that want it and provide broad catastrophic coverage elsewhere.
Moderates are worried a Republican plan will leave too many people uncovered, conservatives are fearful it will be too expensive, and both sides are under pressure from an emerging anti-repeal movement filling up town halls. But we still don't know what Trump, who has offered little guidance beyond buzzwords about health savings accounts and purchasing insurance across state lines, wants lawmakers to do in the face of these challenges.
"All of his actions and statements up to now have tended to err on the side of being vague or able to (be) read from several directions," said Thomas Miller, a conservative health care expert at the American Enterprise Institute. "I don't think they're there yet."
Trump, who championed the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, has mentioned an impending health care plan coming in March, but it's not entirely clear if he's referring to a bill in Congress or a framework from his own White House.
"We have come up with a solution that's really, really, I think, very good," Trump told reporters Monday. "I have to tell you, it's an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody really knew that health care could be so complicated."