A Review of “The Hill to Die On: The Battle for Congress and the Future of Trump’s America”

The Hill to Die On: The Battle for Congress and the Future of Trump's AmericaThe Hill to Die On: The Battle for Congress and the Future of Trump’s America by Jake Sherman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another look at the first half of the Trump Administration, but this time from the perspective of Congress. The authors appear to have been granted access to some key Congressional leaders from both parties, leveraging that access to produce a work that will likely confirm some of the worst public perceptions of the Congress.

The book is not Trump dominated, but most certainly shows how the interactions with the President are handled by Congress, and how Trump (and staff) himself managed the Congressional process. It is not a pretty picture for any of the players involved, even when some measure of success is achieved. The book extends beyond Trump, allowing us to see how the GOP leadership race played out after Speaker Paul Ryan announced his retirement, giving us a close view of the attempt by Steve Scalise to find a way to bump off Kevin McCarthy. Nancy Pelosi fighting off the insurgent effort to replace her as the Democratic leader is covered, and she comes off as a master, while the insurgents do not look so good. The battle for control of Congress, won by the Pelosi led Democrats, is covered extensively. In that coverage we get a good look at the Joe Crowley- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Democratic primary, and how Crowley, interested in leadership of the Democratic caucus, never saw the train coming that took him out of Congress. The role of money, and how it is allocated, and its importance in shaping the races, is shown clearly.

The leadership races, and the battle for control of Congress, is not all that the authors look at. The important legislative battles that brought us the government shutdown, the GOP passed tax bill, Supreme Court nominations, and the rather unique Trump method of dealing with Congress are all covered. Paul Ryan’s exasperation, and frustration, come through clearly on that front. Ryan, as Speaker, had to deal with the dynamic of the GOP Freedom Caucus, which wreaked all sorts of havoc on Ryan and GOP leadership. Trump back dooring the Speaker on multiple occasions by dealing directly with Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows of the Freedom Caucus created all sorts of problems for the GOP leadership. Trump’s fundamental miscalculation, against all GOP advice, on forcing the government shutdown, and then being forced to capitulate to Nancy Pelosi, is covered in some detail. The response to the shutdown, and the out of touch nature of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, is highlighted. The coverage of Kushner is unflattering, to say the least. Not sure how it could be otherwise, as this guy is a walking train wreck, with little or no self awareness. Here are some of the Kushner gems from the book.

“It was at this point that Kushner got more involved in trying to solve the shutdown. He seemed to view himself as uniquely qualified to break legislative logjams, although there was scant evidence that that was the case. Kushner had played a central role in passing a bipartisan criminal-justice reform bill, and appeared to relish his work on that front. But, to longtime aides on Capitol Hill, this wasn’t the triumph he seemed to think it was, since Democrats were always yearning to rewrite the nation’s incarceration laws. Just before the shutdown set in, Kushner told Ryan, McCarthy, and Scalise that he wasn’t focused on the immigration standoff because he was “distracted with criminal justice reform.” But now that reform was done, he expected to make short work of it. I’m on it, he told Ryan. I can quickly fix it.”

Sherman, Jake. The Hill to Die On (p. 389). Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.

Of course Kushner solved nothing, but his self importance and self delusion are astounding.

“When Sen. John McCain visited the White House early in the administration, he was in the midst of telling Trump about military procurement reform, a longtime passion, when Kushner interjected. “Don’t worry, Senator McCain. We’re going to change the way the entire government works,” Kushner said without a hint of irony. “Good luck, son,” McCain responded.”

Sherman, Jake. The Hill to Die On (p. 48). Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.

Kushner was also convinced he could solve the issue of immigration, constantly telling people that a big deal was possible. Never mind not understanding his negotiating partner, Kushner did not even grasp the actual position of his own team. Kushner’s involvement in immigration talks ended like everything he touches ends. With recriminations, bad blood, and of course no deal.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, the sessions, which happened over the first weekend of 2019, did not bear much fruit. Participants were struck by how many aides the White House had gathered—more than fifty, by several estimates—which made the sessions un-conducive to deal cutting. Kushner began speaking more regularly in these meetings. In one, he marveled at the fact that it costs the government $750 per day to keep an undocumented child in the United States. They might as well put them up at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown, he quipped. He also said he was bringing a businessman’s mind-set to the border talks. The border needed more money because people were trying to cross it more often, he said. He brushed aside concerns about cost, and said the federal government should spend whatever it needs on security. The meetings left Democrats and Republicans alike bewildered. How, they thought, could they come to a deal with a White House that was so scattershot in its thinking? How could the president put his trust in a neophyte like Kushner?”

Sherman, Jake. The Hill to Die On (pp. 392-393). Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.

I enjoyed the book, and I do recommend it. The authors garbled what a “pocket veto” is, but aside from that minor complaint the book is another look at the first couple of years of the Trump Administration from a different vantage point, and contributes to understanding some of the forces pulling the political system apart. It does not always take new ground, but certainly gives more detail than you will get from reading Politico, where the authors write a daily newsletter.

View all my reviews

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