The White House has a few questions for candidates in Republican primaries hoping for President Donald Trump’s endorsement.
Do you support ending foreign aid to Pakistan? How about withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership? Did you back the president’s ban on visa-holders from several Muslim-majority countries? Do you support the president’s immigration proposals, including giving DACA recipients a path to citizenship? How about his proposal for steel and aluminum tariffs?
Candidates meeting with the White House in recent weeks and months are leaving with an “Opinion Leader Questionnaire” from the Office of Political Affairs, with eight yes-or-no questions to fill out and space to elaborate on their reasoning. The questions range from layups to relatively obscure issues. Some of the questions are potentially divisive in a GOP primary.
The document, described to HuffPost by three GOP sources on condition of anonymity, reflects how the White House hopes to use GOP primaries to move the Republican Party in Trump’s direction. While former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s dream of a nationwide insurgency against incumbent Republicans has gone up in smoke, the White House is still looking to turn the GOP into a more populist party.
“It’s necessary for the White House to want to make sure the candidates President Trump lines up behind share his views on issues like trade, immigration and an America first foreign policy,” said one former White House official.
Here are the questions included in the document:
“Do you support or oppose President Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court?”
“Do you support or oppose President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multinational trade agreement?”
“Do you support or oppose President Trump’s Executive Order to suspend the issuance of visas and other immigration benefits to nationals of countries of Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen?”
“Do you support or oppose the repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate within the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017?”
“Do you support or oppose the President’s intention to withhold foreign security assistance to Pakistan?”
“Do you support or oppose President Trump’s Infrastructure Initiative, which calls for $200 billion in Federal funds to spur at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments with partners at the State, local, Tribal, and private level?”
“On January 30, 2018, President Trump released a framework with the following four proposals to reform our immigration system: 1. Establish a $25 billion trust fund for the border wall system, ports of entry and exit, and northern border improvements 2. Promote nuclear family migration by allowing immigration sponsorships of spouses and minor children only 3. End the visa lottery program 4. Provide legal status for DACA recipients and certain other DACA-eligible illegal immigrants. Do you support or oppose President Trump’s framework for immigration reform?”
“Do you support or oppose President Trump’s imposition of 25 percent tariffs on steel imports and 10 percent tariffs on aluminum imports?”
After each question, respondents are given the chance to check “yes” or “no,” plus a box to explain the answer.
The document appears to be evolving; some campaigns had received a seven-question version that didn’t ask about the steel or aluminum tariffs. The version viewed by HuffPost was dated March 16 and requested answers by March 30.
Of the eight questions, five divide at least some elements of the GOP. Economic conservatives and free-traders have revolted against Trump’s protectionist moves, including the tariffs and his decision to throw away the TPP, a 12-nation trade deal negotiated by the Obama administration.
Republicans who favor a robust American presence abroad are likely to question his desire to cut off aid to Pakistan. And conservatives are often unenthusiastic about Trump’s infrastructure plan.
The most controversial might be the question on Trump’s immigration principles, where border-state Republicans are often skeptical of the president’s proposed border wall and immigration hawks don’t like the decision to include permanent legal status for DACA recipients. When a proposal based on the framework came up for a vote in February, it received just 39 votes, with GOP senators opposing the proposal from both the center and the right.
While previous administrations hadn’t issued formal questionnaires to candidates, it was standard for them to gather intelligence on candidates and political leaders meeting with the president.
“The political office is trying to gather the information they need to inform the president,” said Scott Jennings, a GOP strategist who worked in the White House political office under the George W. Bush administration. “It’s absolutely their responsibility to know the political beliefs of the people the president meets with or endorses.”
The document isn’t just being given to candidates, and not every candidate running in a GOP primary has received one. The White House has also reportedly sent the document to state-level Republican committee members and other influential members of the party.