After six months in office, Peoria-area lawmakers are beginning to get the measure of President Donald Trump, and seeing how his relationship with Congress might differ from that of his predecessors.
During interviews in their Capitol Hill offices last month, Republicans and Democrats alike highlighted opportunities as well as obstacles in the communication between the executive and legislative branches, and what it might mean to the new-to-government president in terms of accomplishing items on his agenda.
After an election that left Republicans in control of both the presidency and the Congress, U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood expressed hope that leaders could move on from being "distracted" by a series of "self-inflicted" side issues and instead focus on GOP goals.
"There's a lot of runway out there to work on these things and get it done, but I think there's a collective frustration that we haven't been able to work on those things," the Peoria Republican said.
He gave high marks to the administration's legislative liaisons for being attentive to members of Congress, but expressed concern — particularly for an administration mostly new to government — about the slow speed with which leaders for key positions were being nominated.
"You look at every Cabinet department and they may get a secretary in, but there's 10 (subcabinet) vacancies in every one of those, and those are the people that make the recommendations to the secretary," LaHood said. "It's a little frustrating that they don't have a fully staffed White House and administration and we're six months in. … You're not having an administration, at least on the staff level, that's hitting on all cylinders."
That, too, is a concern U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin had.
"I don't understand, even today, five-months-plus into the new administration, we're still waiting for names of nominees to critical posts," the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate said last month. "The president tweets that Congress is being obstructionist. Well, it's a Republican majority in Congress to start with, and in fairness to the Republican majority, they're not sending us names from the White House. So we could do a lot better, and I hope we do."
Durbin also expressed concern at the lack of "seasoned veterans with congressional experience" outside of Vice President Mike Pence, a former congressman, to help guide the administration.
"I've had several conversations with some of the people in the White House about issues, and usually every five minutes or so they'll stop and say, 'Would you explain that? My background is not in government,'" Durbin said. "And I do, because I want to get things done. But it's an indication of the limited experience that many of them have."
U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, though, said that Trump himself has been quite engaged with lawmakers. The Channahon Republican, whose district includes all of Putnam County and part of Stark County, met with the president twice in recent weeks in small groups of lawmakers to discuss policy — the same number of times he met President Barack Obama in receiving lines at the White House Christmas party during six years.
"When I spend an hour in the Oval Office and the president’s listening to everybody’s concerns on the health care bill, that’s very impressive," Kinzinger said. "And I think if you can keep up that level of outreach, it’ll help (Trump) have more success than the last president."
He, too, shared some of LaHood's concerns about "self-created" problems that could distract from achieving Republican goals, though.
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos took the dimmest view of area lawmakers on the relationship between the White House and Congress, focusing specifically on efforts by White House officials to block queries to the executive branch from Democrats in Congress on issues both hot-button and routine.
"Considering we can make requests of the White House, whether it be through letters or through phone calls, and not even get answers because we’re Democrats, I think that’s a problem," the Moline Democrat said. "We represent Democrats and we represent Republicans, and I think that is putting politics over the people. I think that’s just a terrible way to govern."
Chris Kaergard covers politics and government. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard