Trump is promoting a grab bag of new proposals as evidence of campaign promises kept while Democrats question the timing of the policy flurry so close to the elections. Trump, who has been talking about the need to cut prescription drug prices since his presidential campaign, said of the plan he unveiled this past week, "we're doing things that nobody was ... bold enough to do."
Facing an election that could profoundly change his presidency, Trump's uptick in policy activity underscored the aggressive effort the White House is making as Republicans try to stave off Democratic gains. The White House says all the policies have been in the works or are driven by outside forces, but aides acknowledge that the moves also provide an opportunity to connect with voters on key issues like health care and border security.
Democrats argued Trump was simply playing politics. After Trump rolled out the drug plan, Sen. Ron Wyden said in a statement that the "Trump administration has concocted a dog-and-pony show to trick the American people into thinking they are taking real action to lower drug prices." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi added: "It is hard to take President Trump seriously on prescription drug prices with this proposal just 12 days from the election."
White House political director Bill Stepien pushed back on such criticism, saying Trump has pursued "an aggressive policy agenda on behalf of the American people and he's not slowing down. The results are evident: Good policy is good politics."
On Friday, Trump expressed frustration that he hadn't gotten more plaudits for the drug plan, which he hailed as a "revolutionary change." At a White House event, he complained that the plan wasn't treated accordingly, saying: "It didn't get the kind of coverage it should have." The president said the plan had been overshadowed by all the focus on the pipe-bomb scare but with the apprehension of a suspect, "maybe that can start to disappear rapidly because we don't like those stories."
At times, the president has clearly gotten carried away, or advanced policy ideas with limited impact. Trump said last weekend that he hoped to move forward with a new tax-cut plan "sometime around" or before Nov. 1. But Congress is out of session as lawmakers campaign for the Nov. 6 elections and the president's plan for a new middle-income cut of about 10 percent has yet to be fleshed out. Rep. Kevin Brady told CNBC on Friday that lawmakers had been working with the White House "for several months" on a plan, which he said would be advanced next year if the GOP can hold the House and Senate.
Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, mocked the president's tax push in a campaign appearance Friday on behalf of Democrats, saying, "Congress isn't even in session. He just makes it up." The pitch for a new cut seemed to be a tacit acknowledgement by the Trump administration that an earlier $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts failed to deliver the political boost that Republicans had hoped for.
With immigration, Trump has seized on a caravan of Central American migrants advancing toward the southern border as a political "gift" as he amplifies his hardline border policies. After Trump pledged this week to send additional troops to the border, the Pentagon on Friday approved a request that is likely to send several hundred to help the U.S. Border Patrol. Details of the deployment still are being worked out.
Under his new drug plan, Medicare payment for drugs administered in doctors' offices would gradually shift to a level based on international prices, which are typically lower. But the plan would not apply to medicines that people buy at the pharmacy and would not take effect for more than a year. Still, experts characterized it as a significant proposal, noting it drew pushback from drug makers. The White House said the rollout of the plan had been in the works for months.
The drug plan, like the troop order, did not require congressional approval, a reminder of Trump's persistent struggles to get legislation passed. The White House views the varied policy proposals as part of its political push, said a White House aide who was not authorized to speak publicly about strategy. The aide said drug pricing was considered helpful in an election in which health care has emerged as a top voter concern. And as Trump himself indicated, the caravan is seen as a powerful argument for his immigration proposals.
Republican consultant Alex Conant said that when it comes to reaching voters, "Trump's instincts on this stuff are good." On the tax cut, he said: "Telling voters they're going to get a middle-class tax cut if they're going to vote Republican is GOP 101."