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Midterm Voters Will Render An Early Verdict On Trump's Presidency


President Trump's name of course is not on any ballot this midterm election, but voters will be rendering an early verdict on his presidency. Trump got off to a rocky start with the Republican-controlled Congress. Now he is trying his hardest to keep his party in power. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith has more.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Let's go back to the beginning, Inauguration Day 2017.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The 45th president of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump.


KEITH: Members of Congress were seated behind President Trump as he delivered a searing indictment of the political establishment, including all those people on stage with him. And then he said this.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: What truly matters is not which party controls our government but whether our government is controlled by the people.

KEITH: He's still talking about returning power to the American people. But on the eve of the midterms, Trump has ditched his agnosticism about which party controls Congress.


TRUMP: You must say no to Democrats, and you must say yes to Republicans.

KEITH: For much of the first year of the Trump presidency, there was an unease between the unconventional Republican president and the Congress controlled by his own party. There were Twitter fights with Republican members of Congress, Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell repeating variations of, that wasn't helpful in response to something Trump did or said.

Trump even flirted with Democratic leaders and policies. And there was the intraparty squabble that was the Republican effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. After the House passed a repeal bill and Trump celebrated it in the Rose Garden, he turned around and undercut Republicans and described the bill this way in an interview on Fox.


TRUMP: Mean - that was my term because I want to see - and I speak from the heart. That's what I want to see. I want to see a bill with heart.

KEITH: Trump frequently talked about Republicans as if he wasn't one.


TRUMP: Remember; repeal, and replace. Repeal, and replace. They kept saying it over and over again.


TRUMP: I thought that when I won, I would go to the Oval Office, sit down at my desk, and there would be a health care bill on my desk, to be honest. And it hasn't worked out that way, and I think a lot of Republicans are embarrassed by it.

KEITH: And when the Senate failed to pass a repeal bill, Trump took it out on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.


TRUMP: But I said, Mitch, get to work, and let's get it done. They should've had this last one done. They lost by one vote. For a thing like that to happen is a disgrace. And frankly, it shouldn't have happened.

KEITH: With repeal and replace on the rocks, Trump and Republicans in Congress turned to trying to pass a tax cut.


TRUMP: And I am fully committed to working with Congress to get this job done. And I don't want to be disappointed by Congress. Do you understand me?

KEITH: Ultimately the big tax bill did pass. President Trump signed it, and the relationship with congressional Republicans was saved. Trump's Republican critics in Congress mostly retired rather than face re-election with Trump promising to campaign against them. And the president who once said it didn't matter which party was in power started pitching his loyalists on the idea that Congress wasn't so bad after all.


TRUMP: And they say, but Donald Trump doesn't like Congress. I really do. I like a lot of the people in Congress. Some I'm disappointed in. But for the most part - and I have to tell you something. We have the right ideas. We're making our country great again. We're doing the right thing. We need more Republican votes.

KEITH: But in the final days, Trump has started to let doubt creep back in, distancing himself from House Republicans just like he did with the health care bill. Speaker Ryan criticized Trump's talk of ending birthright citizenship by executive order, and Trump clapped back on Twitter just like old times. Quote, "Paul Ryan should be focusing on holding the majority rather than giving his opinions." And at one of his closing rallies, Trump even allowed that Republicans might lose the House.


TRUMP: Could happen - we're doing very well, and we're doing really well in the Senate, but - could happen. And you know what you do? My whole life, you know what I say? Don't worry about it. I'll just figure it out.

KEITH: As if to suggest Trump's relationship with Republicans in Congress could once again change course. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.