Hillary Clinton’s advisers are crafting a domestic policy agenda for the opening months of a potential presidency that is centered on three issues with some level of Republican support: an infrastructure package that emphasizes job creation, criminal justice reform, and immigration legislation—with the promise of quick executive action if a bill fails in Congress.
Clinton’s campaign aides and transition team have been emphasizing the trio of priorities in conversations with lawmakers and advocacy groups, according to several people involved in those discussions. While Clinton has spoken frequently about each subject in campaign appearances, her advisers’ discussions provide new insight into how the Democrat might approach her first months in the White House, should she defeat Donald Trump on Nov. 8.
People with knowledge of Clinton’s planning insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the private conversations publicly. Clinton campaign officials would not comment on the emerging agenda, saying Clinton is focused squarely on defeating Trump and helping Democrats take control of the Senate, which would improve her chances of securing passage of her policy priorities.
“Anyone who thinks that our candidate or the campaign is focused on the transition is mistaken,” said Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s communications director. “Hillary Clinton is superstitious.”
Clinton has led national and battleground state polls in recent weeks, though Trump sees a new FBI email inquiry as an opening to overtake the Democrat in the election’s closing days.
If Clinton wins, immigration is expected to be among the most complex domestic policy issues she hopes to tackle in 2017. Some Republican leaders, desperate to boost their party’s appeal with Hispanics, have backed legislation, but the party’s right wing keeps resisting, and may be more emboldened by the popularity of Trump’s hardline immigration policies with some GOP voters.
Clinton’s team has actively looked for ways to avoid the traps that have sunk President Barack Obama’s bid for an immigration overhaul in 2013. Sweeping legislation that included a path to citizenship for millions of people illegally in the U.S. passed the Senate that year, but Republican leaders in the House refused to put the measure up for a vote.
Advocacy groups have discussed with Clinton aides the prospect of pushing the House to act on immigration first this time around, testing the will of a chamber that is expected to stay in Republican hands.
However, that approach is largely contingent on Paul Ryan remaining speaker of the House. The Wisconsin lawmaker has spoken favorably of the need to address the nation’s fractured immigration laws. But he may face an internal revolt that forces him out of his leadership post, given the anger among some House Republicans over his lukewarm support for Trump during the general election.
Asked whether Ryan would be willing to work with Clinton on immigration legislation, spokeswoman AshLee Strong said: “Speaker Ryan is focused on beating Democrats in November, including Hillary Clinton.”
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In another break from Obama’s immigration strategy, Clinton aides have signaled plans to wield the threat of executive action more aggressively during the legislative process. Obama spent years insisting only Congress could change immigration laws, though he later took executive actions to keep millions of people in the U.S. illegally from deportation.
“We’re long past time when a president can simply say, I really supported (immigration reform), but Congress didn’t do it,” said Clarissa Martinez De Castro of the National Council of La Raza, a group that advocates immigration reform.
Some of Obama’s executive actions on immigration have been challenged in the courts. The Supreme Court, which is down one justice, deadlocked 4-4 on a decision about the legality of the executive actions. If Clinton is elected, she would presumably nominate a ninth justice inclined to uphold the measures.
Beyond the pitched battle potentially ahead on immigration, it’s clear Clinton’s team is looking for ways she could court bipartisan support for other policies.
Clinton aides have been telling Democrats that she plans to push swiftly for a package of criminal justice reforms, seizing on an issue with broad Republican backing. She could ask lawmakers to pick up a package of reforms that stalled in the Senate earlier this fall, legislation aimed at reducing mandatory minimum sentences for some non-violent offenders and reducing the money the U.S. spends on incarcerations.
“There’s going to be a very important effort for bipartisan cooperation together on this,” Clinton said of criminal justice reform in a radio interview Thursday.
Advisers say Clinton does not view gun control, a more politically risky issue even among some Democratic members of Congress, as part of a criminal justice package.
Clinton’s other main priority should she win appears to be moving swiftly on a multibillion-dollar infrastructure package aimed at boosting economic growth and creating jobs. She’s proposed spending $275 billion on new road, sewer and other infrastructure projects.
Republicans are broadly supportive of infrastructure investments. But as with the numerous fiscal fights between Obama and congressional Republicans, paying for the spending bill could become a point of contention.
Clinton’s plan states that “business tax reform” would finance her agenda, which would include $250 billion in direct funding over five years and $25 billion to seed an infrastructure bank. While the details of the tax reforms are unclear, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer has said the money could come from letting companies pay a lower tax rate on their overseas earnings.