President Trump is coming to terms with the limits of presidential power.
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The decision to pull the American Health Care Act (AHCA) from the House floor on Friday is a telling reminder of the limits of presidential power when it comes to leading the legislature. Our separated system makes it hard for presidents to translate their preferences into policy, even on priority matters. As Lyndon Johnson put it, complaining about the Kennedy staff’s inability to get bills moving: “You can’t start yelling ‘frog’ at everybody and expect ‘em to jump!”
A quick review of political science literature on presidential success in Congress gives us several lenses through which to view Friday’s happenings. One consistent finding is that presidential personality — and the schmoozing of legislators, etc. — matters mostly “at the margins,” as George Edwards put it. In a close vote, those margins surely might matter. But systematic factors were also at play:
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