In interview with Democrat-Gazette, Sarah Huckabee Sanders says Americans should be frustrated

Posted: September 10, 2017 at 4:28 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump is tired of congressional inaction and is ready for lawmakers to finally get something done, White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

If members of the House and Senate are incapable of passing important legislation, they might be in the wrong line of work, she added.

The Republican president, who promised he would "drain the swamp" if elected, isn't the only one dissatisfied with the legislative branch, Sanders said in a West Wing interview Thursday.

"I think America's frustrated with Congress. And they should be," she said.

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Trump's frustration is deep-seated, she noted.

"It's one of the reasons he came here," she said.

Republicans on Capitol Hill failed to repeal and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, something they repeatedly promised to do, she noted.

Although Trump urged them to pass legislation, the measure stalled in the U.S. Senate after 46 Democrats, two independents and three Republicans blocked it.

"You have people that have been talking about fixing health care for seven years, and they had a [chance] and they didn't do it," Sanders said.

Trump has also called on lawmakers to overhaul the nation's immigration laws, secure its borders, cut its tax rates and fix its infrastructure.

Thus far, Congress has failed to act, she said.

"The country is facing some big problems and some big issues, and that's their sole job is to actually get things done and pass legislation," she said. "If they can't do that, then maybe they shouldn't be there."

Sanders is the daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. She became White House press secretary in July.

In an interview, American University government professor Jennifer Lawless said it's uncommon for a president to publicly criticize lawmakers unless they belong to the opposition party.

"It's pretty unheard of to see this level of criticism, which is actually moving in both directions, between an executive and a legislative branch of government that are under the same party's control," she said. "Donald Trump has been probably more explicit about his frustration, but I don't think there's any question that it goes both ways."

"I think it's a pretty hostile, bad relationship," she added. "I think there's a major lack of trust."

White House attacks on Congress could result in more contested Republican primaries and make it harder for Republican incumbents to defeat Democrats in 2018, she said.

A representative of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said 2018 will be a referendum on the Republican-controlled Congress.

"Folks in Arkansas and across the country expect results, and even while they control both Houses of Congress and the White House, Washington Republicans can't get the job done," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Cole Leiter said in a written statement. "It's clear the American people are ready for a change, and it's time Washington Republicans wise up or get ready to move out."

Gallup, the polling organization, says dissatisfaction with Capitol Hill is widespread and bipartisan.

In August, Congress' approval rating was 12 percent among Democrats; 16 percent among Republicans, down from 50 percent in February.

The poll of 1,017 adults had an overall margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Asked whether congressional inaction reflected poorly on the Republican majority, Sanders said "not necessarily."

"You don't have a single Democrat that's willing to work with Republicans on big issues. We've allowed partisan politics to be more important than helping our country. There's probably, I'm sure, some fault on both sides," she said.

"It's time for people to come together, both Republicans and Democrats, and figure out some real solutions and get some stuff done," she added.

Trump has criticized lawmakers for failing to tackle other issues, including immigration.

On Tuesday, he tweeted: "Congress, get ready to do your job -- DACA!" referring to Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that assists 800,000 young illegal aliens who fear deportation. Most of them were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents.

Trump said last week that he was rescinding the Obama-era executive order that created the program, but giving Congress six months to craft an alternative.

Trump also cut a deal last week with Democratic leaders, agreeing to legislation that funds the government and raises the debt ceiling for three months while also providing billions of dollars for hurricane disaster relief.

Four members of the Arkansas congressional delegation backed the bill: U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton, along with U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford and Steve Womack.

Two opposed it: U.S. Reps. French Hill and Bruce Westerman.

Asked about the White House's criticism of Congress, spokesmen for Boozman and Cotton portrayed the two lawmakers as Trump allies.

"We are currently working with the administration on major policy initiatives including tax reform, the farm bill and legislation to secure our borders -- all of which are top priorities for the president," said Boozman spokesman Patrick Creamer. "Sen. Boozman is confident that Congress and President Trump can accomplish our shared goals."

Cotton spokesman Caroline Rabbitt lamented the failure of Republican health care legislation but said other issues are being addressed, and "the Senate is working hard to pass legislation that supports President Trump's agenda."

Despite the failure of Republican health care legislation, Sanders said she's optimistic that lawmakers will be able to pass immigration legislation in the coming months.

"We're still confident that Congress is going to get something done, and that's their job," she said. "We want to work with them in that process. We want to make sure that we have responsible immigration reform and that would be part of that."

While Trump is trying to pass legislation, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is preparing to unveil her book, What Happened, about her unsuccessful 2016 presidential campaign.

It places part of the blame for Clinton's loss on her Democratic primary opponent, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, alleging that his "attacks caused lasting damage, making it harder to unify progressives in the general election and paving the way for Trump's 'Crooked Hillary' campaign."

Asked whether Sen. Sanders, no relation to the press secretary, bears the blame for Clinton's defeat, Trump's press secretary said "no."

Clinton "is someone who repeatedly is unwilling to take responsibility and is looking to blame and to point out problems but not offer solutions. I think that's one of the main reasons that she lost," Sanders said. "Donald Trump actually had a message. ... He had actual policy platforms that he campaigned on, not just 'the other side is bad and I'm better,'" Sanders said.

Ten months after Clinton's narrow defeat, "she still hasn't learned that lesson, and she's blaming Bernie Sanders. I think at some point maybe she'll learn," Sanders added.

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