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Trumponomics Daily—Tuesday, February 28

Donald Trump will arrive on Capitol Hill tonight to deliver a de facto State of the Union speech at a perilous moment for his new presidency. Infighting among Congressional Republicans threatens to swamp his legislative agenda. They can’t agree on the basics of an approach for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. His budget outline — a plan to radically ramp up defense spending by taking an axe to domestic programs — landed with a thud among GOP lawmakers yesterday. (Sen. John McCain said “there’s not a snowball’s chance in Gila Bend, Arizona” he’d vote for it; Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, a veteran appropriator, said it couldn’t pass, because too many fellow Republicans champion programs it targets.) And GOPers need to adopt a budget to stand a chance of passing tax reform, since the spending blueprint will include special rules enabling a tax overhaul to clear the Senate with a simple majority. Otherwise, to stop a filibuster, Senate Republicans will need to poach eight Democrats, likely an impossibility.

The intraparty chaos offers Trump a lesson that should have been obvious: Bringing massive change to an entrenched political order is easier said than done. He showed a glimmer of recognition to that effect Monday, when he told governors gathered at the White House that he’s learning healthcare is “an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew healthcare reform could be so complicated.” (Everybody knew.) But appearing on Fox and Friends this morning, Trump asserted the inverse, giving himself and his team a “C or a C+” for their messaging so far, an A+ for effort, and an A for achievement. In fact, he’s done plenty of talking while not yet achieving anything of note legislatively. And the scaffolding for what’s he hopes will come is already threatening to collapse. Most immediately, conservative hardliners in Congress are mounting an insurrection against an Obamacare replacement plan floated by House Republican leaders — threatening to blow up that process before it gets started. So on healthcare, tax reform and beyond, Congressional Republicans are urging Trump to engage much more directly in their internal disputes. “President Trump will need to do more than merely wait upon a Republican Congress to produce the legislation he has championed,” Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole writes in today’s New York Times. “He must become an active participant in the legislative process.”

The problems already bedeviling Trump’s presidency — and to a lesser extent, his program on the Hill — are too knotty for one speech to unwind. But the rank and file of his party who will crowd the House chamber tonight are feeling an increasing urgency for their president to help cut through the clamor.

Tory Newmyer
@torynewmyer
tory_newmyer@fortune.com

Must Reads

Trump is Planning These Cuts to Make Way for a Military Spending Surge [Fortune]

The president will propose funding a $54 billion military buildup through deep cuts to domestic programs and foreign aid.

Ryan and Bannon Forge Unexpected Alliance on Border Tax [Bloomberg]

Trump’s chief strategist only last year referred to the House Speaker as the “enemy,” but    he’s emerged as Ryan’s strongest advocate inside the administration for a controversial plan to fund tax reform with a new levy on imports.

Senate Confirms Billionaire Investor Wilbur Ross as Commerce Secretary [Fortune]

The billionaire rounds out Trump’s economic kitchen cabinet; he’s said he plans to dive into renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Johnson & Johnson Is Dialing Down Crazy Drug Price Hikes [Fortune]

Sensitive to pressure from the new administration, the drug giant issued a transparency report opening a window into it’s pricing tactics; but its increases still outpace inflation by a healthy margin.

GE CEO Jeff Immelt Says Donald Trump Won’t Be Able to Stop Globalization [Fortune]

The GE chief is an economic advisor to the president, and he tread carefully in his annual note to shareholders, but he also made clear he believes rising populist sentiment at home and abroad can’t overwhelm globalization.

Number of the day

$54

What President Trump paid for a steak (well-done, with ketchup) at BLT Prime, the restaurant in his own hotel, in his first Washington, D.C. dinner outing as president. Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema tut-tutted that Trump’s choice demonstrated a “remarkable lack of curiosity” about his new town’s food offerings.

Loose change

Don’t Expect the FCC to Review AT&T’s Bid for Time Warner [Fortune]

Trump’s Press Secretary Targets Messaging Apps in Leak Crackdown [Fortune]

Behind the Scenes, Investors Are Starting to Worry [Bloomberg]

Manafort’s Ukrainian ‘blood money’ caused qualms, hack suggests [Politico]