2018 is shaping up to be a very different year for President Trump

Key Points
  • Tuesday's D.C. news suggests 2018 could be a very different year for the president.
  • Donald Trump, who sailed on a wave of anti-globalist sentiment to the Oval Office, is expected to attend the World Economic Forum, seen as an annual gathering of the globalist financial elite.
  • "He was always more moderate than he was given credit for," an administration official told CNBC. "On almost everything, with few exceptions, he is willing to deal."
Trump to attend World Economic Forum in Davos

The news out of Washington on Tuesday suggested 2018 could be a very different year for President Donald Trump.

It was a stunning reversal of fortune for the anti-globalist faction of the president's political base. As former Trump advisor Steve Bannon was being pushed out of his perch at Breitbart News following backlash over comments he made to journalist Michael Wolff about the president and his family, the White House announced that Trump would be going to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland – an event widely seen as the annual retreat of the globalist financial elite.

What's more, the president invited cameras in to record nearly an hour of his negotiations with Democrats and Republicans on DACA, suggesting to them he was open to a comprehensive deal on immigration reform.

As for the wall Trump campaigned on, aides suggested quietly that it doesn't need to be all that long; just so there's enough built that the president can credibly say he kept his campaign promise.

"He was always more moderate than he was given credit for," an administration official told me Tuesday. "On almost everything, with few exceptions, he is willing to deal."

"The main thing about the wall is you don't have to have a wall for all three thousand miles. You can have sections. It doesn't take that much."

All of that comes at a time when the president is being increasingly embraced by members of the the Republican establishment — even Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who once publicly doubted Trump's stability and competence, stood smiling behind the president Monday in Tennessee as he signed an order on rural broadband access, happily accepting the president's pen as a keepsake.

The moment certainly seems ripe for Trump to capture more legislative momentum.

But, once again, the details could get in the president's way. Look at the two legislative items the president has said he wants to push this year: Welfare reform and infrastructure.

Questions about infrastructure plans

On infrastructure, the president's biggest problem will be House conservatives. The White House has already held conversations with the conservative Republican Study Committee and Freedom Caucus to persuade conservatives to support infrastructure spending that they might otherwise see as Obama-style government stimulus spending.

Part of the pitch will be developing ways to say the infrastructure spending pays for itself, including by streamlining requirements for construction projects, and developing a dynamic score for the final package that takes into account expected economic growth.

But there's a lot still to be determined, including what the technical details will be, how much detail the White House wants to release, and how much the Trump team wants to leave up to the congressional committees to fill in the blanks.

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"I don't get the sense that we have had the kinds of serious conversations that it would take," said an administration official. "The president's inclination is just 'spend money,' while the House is more talking about public private partnerships."

"The president's view of it is a Manhattan-centric vision of giant bridges and tunnels that people remember. If Donald Trump is building something, he wants it to be huge."

A senior GOP Capitol Hill aide agreed that the plan under consideration and the president's plan might be at odds. "There's an outline of a plan that (White House economic advisor) Gary Cohn has put forward. I'm not sure if Trump is completely on board with that," the aide said.

"I think the onus is on the administration and the White House in particular to come up with a plan to sell it to members. A giant spending bill might have some issues with conservatives."

A tricky path to welfare reform

As for welfare reform, White House officials say they see it as a natural follow up to tax reform: now that they have stimulated the economy, they want to push additional people back into the workforce. They envision changes to the federal SNAP program as well as additional job training.

At Camp David this weekend, House Speaker Paul Ryan gave a PowerPoint presentation of House Republican ideas on welfare reform. But Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell has signaled he is not interested in using budget reconciliation — a rare budgetary maneuver — to speed the bill along.

That makes progress tricky. There's some thought of simply attaching welfare reform on to a larger Farm Bill later in the year.

Those conversations will continue this weekend as House Republican leaders gather at the Salamander Resort and Spa in Middleburg, Va., and again later this month at a joint House Senate retreat at the Greenbriar Resort in West Virginia.

Ironically, aides insist the one thing not getting in the way of the legislative agenda is the explosive reaction to the Michael Wolff book that drive the final split between Trump and Bannon this week.

"A lot of people are conditioned to crazy stories coming from the White House at this point," the Capitol Hill aide said.

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