By Niall Stanage - 01-17-17 17:44 PM EST
Donald Trump is putting pressure on his own party to move fast on his legislative priorities, but his push could be hindered by his low approval ratings as he enters the Oval Office.
The president-elect startled congressional Republicans over the weekend when he told The Washington Post that a replacement for the Affordable Care Act should provide "insurance for everybody."
He also promised that he would make drug companies negotiate prices with the government for the Medicare and Medicaid programs - a position more common among Democrats than Republicans.
In the same interview, Trump insisted that lawmakers needed to be swifter in pushing his agenda forward.
"The Congress can't get cold feet because the people will not let that happen," Trump said.
That was not the first shot across the bows from Trump. As the new Congress was being sworn in, he implicitly criticized House Republicans for seeking to gut an independent ethics office. He won that fight and the proposal was reversed.
In a Wall Street Journal interview published on Tuesday, Trump also condemned an element of tax reform favored by many Capitol Hill Republicans. The president-elect told the newspaper that "border-adjustment" - a move that would, in essence, tax imports but not exports - was "too complicated."
But that's not the only thing that's complicated. Trump is in a unique position among modern presidents as he prepares to take the oath of office on Friday. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Tuesday showed him winning the approval of only 40 percent of adults, as against 54 percent who view him unfavorably.
That is significantly worse than any modern president. In addition, Trump lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by almost three million votes; he has faced allegations that Russian hackers sought to influence the election in his favor; and even some members of his own party treat him with wariness.
All of those factors make his relationship with Congress potentially challenging.
"It depends on the wind that is behind him - in other words, the grassroots communities across the country," said Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee. "Do members feel pressure from their constituents [to back Trump]? How well and effectively does Donald Trump use the bully pulpit?"
Steele also cautioned that much would depend upon whether Trump could improve upon his approval ratings before the going got really tough farther down the line.
"If his popularity broadly speaking continues to dip or does not strengthen, members then don't have an incentive to jump through hoops for him," he said. "Except for districts where he is really strong, you will see members looking to see how he is playing in Peoria."
But Steele, and other Republican strategists, noted that the fortunes of Trump and the GOP more generally were likely to rise and fall together - a potentially significant factor that could bring them closer.
"They are all in this together, so if it becomes a circular firing squad they are all going to get hit," said John Feehery, a strategist and former aide to Republican leaders on Capitol Hill who is also a columnist for The Hill. "In many ways, this is a good baseline to start from, because if they get some things done, their approval ratings will go up."
Another GOP strategist, Alex Conant, suggested that there was such hunger among Republicans to actually pass laws that it would transcend any differences of emphasis between Trump and his party colleagues on Capitol Hill.
"There are a lot of political initiatives that have been on the back-burner for the past eight years," Conant said. "The Republicans in Congress have spent those eight years watching Barack Obama block every idea that they had. Now, they have a Republican president who can't wait to sign a lot of legislation."
Both Feehery and Conant suggested, independently of each other, that Trump's public pronouncements were not the be-all and end-all. They suggested that president-elect paints in broad strokes, and cautioned that his political instincts are often underestimated by his critics.
"Clearly, Trump is not a policy guy," said Feehery. "But it's as if you have brought someone into government who is a newbie but who has a really good understanding of where voters are."
Conant said he did not regard the differences that have emerged so far as a big problem.
"I think much of what Trump says is him negotiating - not drawing lines in the sand," he said. "I also think it is in everyone's interest that we pass laws. All sides [within the GOP] would be disappointed if we ended up with two years of gridlock."
Democrats, however, will be doing all they can to put the brakes on the Trump-GOP agenda. It remains to be seen whether they can exploit any divisions between the president and Republican lawmakers.
"This is going to be an early test both for Trump and the administration," Steele said.