White House

Trump train rolling, in spite of everything

U.S. President Donald Trump takes the stage for a rally at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. March 15, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump takes the stage for a rally at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. March 15, 2017  (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Suggesting that Donald Trump should keep his head down, ignore petty slights and soldier on is like telling a raging bull to cover up his privates; both are unlikely propositions. Nonetheless, it’s good advice. The country elected Mr. Trump because voters were unhappy with the status quo – a sputtering economy, the loss of power and pride to overseas rivals, the unaffordability of healthcare, the inability to stem illegal immigration and the dithering over how to protect the country from terrorism. Outrage from a jilted Left doesn’t make those problems any less real.

For the good of the country, and the good of the GOP, President Trump needs to make progress on these issues; astonishingly, if you can peer through the volcanic eruption of liberal disapproval, you’ll see he’s doing just that.

Take immigration. Despite being pilloried as hateful and barbaric, Mr. Trump has stood by his position that legal immigration into our country is welcome and beneficial, but that illegal immigration will not be tolerated. Sending that message loud and clear has already had an impact, as common sense would have predicted. Border crossings plummeted 40% in Trump’s first month, to the lowest level in five years.

That’s a victory, and it could lead to an even greater accomplishment. For many years conservatives have demanded that secure borders precede immigration reform. If Trump can stem the inflow of undocumented people, perhaps he can then  resolve the status of the 11 million living in the country illegally. That would be a major win, and Trump loves winning.

Look at healthcare. For all the sturm und drang, the GOP has managed to wrangle a complex bill through several committees in the House that would effectively dismantle Obamacare’s onerous taxes and fines, reduce the deficit and begin a much-needed reform of Medicaid. Despite predictable posturing from all sides, the bill will likely be punched and pulled into legislation that most Republicans can live with. Is it perfect? No. Is it better than Obamacare, with its narrowing choices and spiraling costs? You bet.

How about trade? The Trump White House last week laid down a significant marker, hitting Chinese telecommunications company ZTE with a $1.2 billion fee for shipping goods illegally to North Korea and Iran in violation of sanctions. The penalty is the largest-ever levied by the Commerce Department; more important, Secretary Wilbur Ross says payment will be demanded. The Obama administration was so deferential to China that even when it won assessments against Beijing through the World Trade Organization, it failed to collect the billions owed in fees. When our trading partners cheat, as they have done with impunity, we will hold them accountable, vows Ross. High time.

Want federal spending to decline? Take a look at Trump’s budget. This is another marker, putting Washington on notice that nothing is sacred. The establishment is howling over cuts to sacred cows like the EPA, but with $20 trillion in debt and deficits poised to rise again, something has to give.

The punditry is aghast that Trump wants to cut spending at the EPA, but the agency’s ineffectiveness weakens the case for the status quo. In spite of its 15,000 employees, 10 regional offices and a budget of over $8 billion, the EPA completely whiffed on fixing the poisoned water disaster in Flint, Michigan. Its own Inspector General reported that the agency should have intervened and issued an emergency order a full seven months earlier than it did. They should have had a greater sense of “urgency”, said the watchdog group, since protecting the health of our citizens is surely the EPA’s number one goal.

At least it used to be. During the Obama years, management fired many older workers to cut costs. They recruited a younger, more diverse workforce, reaching out for the first time to historically black colleges, for instance.  They hired people fired up by President Obama’s climate crusade and by the mission of the EPA, a place the local union leader described as “a great place to work because you get to do something you believe in."

In other words, they stocked the place with zealots, which is why Scott Pruitt, the new agency head and others are being purposefully undermined. David Schnare, who was on the Trump transition team at the EPA, recently resigned, noting the pushback he and others faced from a group of employees who “were definitely antagonistic” to the incoming administration. He described the group “as here for a cause.” This is not new news, since EPA workers took the unprecedented step of lobbying against the confirmation of Mr. Pruitt, but it is not good news.

As with most federal agencies, the EPA has outgrown its mandate and its mission. One excuse management gave for the Flint debacle is that they were uncertain of the state’s role. That confusion was reasonable, in that much of what the EPA purports to do is already handled by the states. The reality is that a lot of the work done in D.C. (but not all) can and should be done at the state level. That would lead to greater efficiency, and also lower costs. 

Trump is on the right track, as is the country. His instincts are sound, pressing for more accountability and more common sense in government. It’s not easy draining the swamp, but that is what the voters want, and that is what he is already delivering. He needs to stay the course. Now if he could just have one speedbump in his Twitter feed….

Liz Peek is a writer who contributes frequently to FoxNews.com. She is a financial columnist who also writes for The Fiscal Times. For more visit LizPeek.com. Follow her on Twitter@LizPeek.