Politico

Governors face uncertainty in the Trump era

Written by Lisa

“Cautiously optimistic.”

“We’ll have to see.”

“I don’t agree with his style, but he’s shaking it up.”

“I’m not sure what the answer is going to be.”

That’s how the several of nation’s governors described their feelings, hopes and expectations about the Trump administration. And after listening to them on Friday, it’s clear they still have a lot of questions — and few answers — when it comes to a new White House that has talked more in broad strokes than wonky specifics when it comes to policy.

Even some Republicans didn’t seem able to fully endorse the new administration.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said at POLITICO’s State Solutions Conference. Herbert said he was pleased with President Donald Trump’s cabinet picks.

“You have to surround yourself with good people,” he said. “I see him doing that, and I think he can have a successful presidency.”

Of the 11 governors interviewed at the conference, only one — Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who led a pro-Trump super PAC during the campaign — was unabashedly excited about President Trump.

“We believe we have a partner in the White House,” Scott said at the conference.

But it was Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson who may have best encapsulated the governors’ view of the entertainer-turned-President.

“I don’t agree with his style, but he’s shaking it up,” he said.

A record 46 of the nation’s 50 governors were in D.C. for the annual meeting of the National Governors’ Association, along with sideline meetings for the Democratic Governors’ Association and the Republican Governors’ Association. The state executives ate lunch with Vice President Mike Pence on Friday, and were scheduled to visit the White House for dinner with President Donald Trump on Sunday night, followed by meetings with White House staff and members of Congress on Monday.

The governors were unanimous in their opposition to Trump’s desire to crack down on foreign trade, fretful about his plans to replace Obamacare, pleased with his plans for an increase in federal infrastructure spending, and sharply divided on his push for immigration enforcement.

The governors, who mostly came out of the establishment wings of both political parties, unanimously broke with the White House on trade policy. No governor was ready for Trump to start slapping tariffs on imports and potentially starting a trade war.

“Trade is one of the truly essential ingredients of progress,” Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said.

“[Trump] doesn’t fit neatly into my conservative principles over time, one of those being trade issues,” Hutchinson said later.

New Hampshire GOP Gov. Chris Sununu, asked if he was worried about Trump’s renegotiation of NAFTA — Canada is a key trading partner for the Granite State — wasn’t sure of what the Trump administration’s next steps were.

“We’re watching it, but I’m not sure what the answer is going to be,” Sununu said.

On healthcare, Republicans were ready to repeal Obamacare and implement block-granting for Medicaid, but were also worried about the process and confusion if the law is repealed without a replacement.

Herbert, for instance, warned about passing a fix without some Democratic support, making Republicans wholly responsible for the health care system, premium hikes and consumer confusion.

“I’d rather do it right than quick,” he said.

Arkansas’ Hutchinson sounded a similar note: “I support a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but you have to know where you’re going after that.”

Democrats, on the other hand, repeatedly warned of the danger of repealing Obamacare and the Medicaid expansion and expressed doubt Republicans would succeed. Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, a Republican-turned-independent, summed up the danger for his former party.

“Almost daily, I hear from people who are alive today because of Medicaid expansion,” he said.

Some issues saw more of a partisan division. Trump’s plans to rapidly ramp up the deportation of undocumented immigrants, including those who had committed only minor crimes, alarmed Democrats but won plaudits from Republicans.

“I can’t imagine that the administration is going to go out and have massive collections, massive deportations [of undocumented immigrants,]” Hickenlooper said. “But we’ll have to see.”

Hutchinson, on the other hand, said he read the White House orders on immigration and didn’t fully understand the fuss.

“All he’s saying is that he’s going to enforce the law,” he said.

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