What Tom Emmer — Minnesota’s most prominent Trump supporter — expects in the administration’s first year

MinnPost file photo by Jana Freiband
Rep. Tom Emmer: “I don’t think America voted for Republicans. I think America was sending a very strong message that we don’t like the way things are going… We want some changes.”

Before Donald Trump almost became the first Republican presidential candidate to carry Minnesota in 40 years, there was a time when few Minnesotans wanted to be associated with him.

On March 1, when Minnesotans went to caucus for presidential candidates, they largely rejected Trump. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz combined to take over two-thirds of the vote; Trump netted 21 percent, one of his worst primary showings nationwide.  

Minnesota’s two most senior Republican congressmen, Reps. John Kline and Erik Paulsen, had both backed Rubio. Neither would attend the Republican National Convention in July that officially handed Trump the GOP nomination.

But one of Minnesota’s representatives in Washington was in Cleveland, and in the nominee’s luxury box, no less: 6th District Rep. Tom Emmer. After staying neutral in the primary, Emmer enthusiastically backed Trump in May, and continued to do so throughout the general election.

As Emmer hitched himself to the Trump train, some wondered what might happen to him when that train inevitably went over a cliff.

But it didn’t. Now, Emmer finds himself the most prominent Minnesotan backer of President-elect Trump. What does that mean for him, and what does he expect from the new administration?

Emmer quiet in the primaries

When some of his GOP congressional colleagues endorsed Trump’s competitors, or even attacked Trump, Emmer exhibited a quality that, for a long time, wasn’t his signature: caution.

As a radio host, and in his failed bid for governor in 2010, Emmer developed a reputation as a partisan bomb-thrower who relished a fight.

His first term in Congress, though, seemed devoted to convincing people that he had turned over a new leaf, favoring a gentler, here-to-listen approach over an argumentative one. Emmer shied away from controversy and touted his work with Democrats like Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and collaborated with Rep. Keith Ellison on a caucus devoted to Somali-American issues.

The GOP’s primary process was a good example of his new strategy. As the field formed and Trump splashed into the race, Emmer stayed silent. Through the year, as his colleagues went on record in support of Rubio, Cruz, and other candidates, Emmer played it safe, not even mentioning specific candidates he liked.

Looking back, Emmer says it wasn’t his place to endorse someone before the process played out.

“At the risk of being critical of my colleagues, I don’t think the people I represent much care about my opinion when it comes to who they should vote for, especially in a hotly contested primary,” he said.

“We thought the best thing to do was wait until someone accumulates the number of delegates necessary, endorse them, and be done with it.”

“It was as simple as that,” Emmer said, adding that he “got more compliments by the fact I didn’t endorse.”

Indeed, that caution may have served Emmer well. By declining to endorse any candidate, he made few enemies in a district where Rubio and Cruz tied in the caucus, and Trump was only 10 points behind.

And Emmer stuck with Trump, even as tapes were released in October revealing Trump bragging about groping women, leaving him looking like the Minnesota GOP’s team player after the scandal forced Paulsen to denounce Trump.

If Clinton had won, as many believed she would, such a move might have tarnished Emmer’s political future. But Trump romped to an Electoral College win, came within 45,000 votes of winning Minnesota, and carried Emmer’s district by 26 points.

‘Obamacare as it exists will be done’

Now, things are looking pretty good for Tom Emmer. His party holds the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Again, Emmer urged caution, saying Republicans shouldn’t get ahead of themselves.

“I don’t think America voted for Republicans,” he said. “I think America was sending a very strong message that we don’t like the way things are going… We want some changes.”

The change agent, Emmer said, was clearly Trump. “Now you have this awesome responsibility, and you need to deliver,” he says.

So what might that look like?

This is how Emmer envisions the first year of a Trump presidency: aggressive action to roll back key Obama administration policies, like the Affordable Care Act, as well as strong moves to implement long-awaited GOP policies on border security, tax reform, and national security.

“Keep in mind we’ve had a president in the last eight years who, he’s only been able to get a few major pieces of legislation through the people’s process,” Emmer said. “Instead of working with Congress and the American people to get his agenda passed… he did 80 to 90 percent of his work through executive order.”

“You can expect much of the executive rulings, the imperial presidency, will be going off the books.”

“In the first hundred days, the Affordable Care Act is going to be dealt with,” Emmer said. He did not say definitively whether he endorsed the plan Senate leaders have discussed, which would repeal and replace the law on a three-year timeline, or if he wanted everything done sooner.

He did say “the policy will take a little bit longer, but Obamacare as it exists is done. It will not exist after February.”

On other issues, like trade and border security, it’s unclear what Trump really wants to do. Is his call for a 35 percent tariff on some imports a bluff, or does he mean it? What about the wall, or the Muslim ban?

You might think this level of uncertainty would frustrate a lawmaker like Emmer, particularly when Trump has said things that both align with and oppose his policy views.

For example, the congressman, who is a supporter of free trade, is broadly at odds with his president, who made criticism of trade deals central to his candidacy. (Emmer never took an official stance on TPP, but did vote in 2015 for the “fast-track” mechanism that can advance TPP and other trade pacts more easily.)

Many now anticipate a protectionist Trump, a notion bolstered by his call for those sky-high tariffs. But Emmer suggested there might be more at work. “Is this an opening statement or is it something that he truly believes he wants to implement?” he asked “I don’t know yet. I doubt it.”

On the border wall and the ban on Muslim immigration into the U.S., Emmer dismissed Trump’s extreme positions as campaign rhetoric. “I think where it’s going to go is, stop the inflammatory talk, let’s stop the finger-pointing, let’s sit down and make sure that we craft policy or reform existing policy that meets the number one obligation of our federal government which is to protect the homeland and American citizens.” 

Emmer did express opposition to the idea of a ban on Muslims entering the country. “This country does not have a religious litmus test,” he said. “That’s why we have this country.”

Like other Republicans, though, Emmer has spun Trump’s broad ambiguity as an asset. “I think he’s making some very calculated statements, and he’s doing some things that move the ball in a different direction.”

Looking ahead

Between his cautious embrace of Trump, and his surprising victory, Emmer appears to have managed a baffling political situation — one that vexed many of his colleagues — and made it look pretty easy.

He’s not having a bad career year, either. Emmer won re-election easily, earning 235,000 votes, a record for a Republican House member in Minnesota.

In his first term, Emmer quietly and diligently did all the things an ambitious lawmaker needs to do to build a reputation and rise through the House hierarchy. This month, Emmer was rewarded with a seat on the influential Republican Steering Committee, one of the least senior members to nab a coveted post there.

Luke Yurczyk, chair of the CD6 Republican Party, says Emmer has come a long way from his failed bid for governor. “He’s taking a slightly different tone” in Congress, he said. “I think he’s the same person we’ve always known, but he’s maybe changed his tune from that race.”

Sitting his office — where he sleeps when Congress is in session — Emmer is hardly radio jock fire-and-brimstone. After answering questions about Trump’s agenda, its inconsistencies and uncertainties, Emmer wrapped up the interview, almost radiating calm.

“The glass is always half full,” he said, “and the sky is always blue.”

Correction: This article previously misstated Emmer’s position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 12/12/2016 - 11:13 am.

    How can we move forward without understanding the last 8 years?

    I do appreciate that Rep. Emmer has developed into a more cautious politician who listens to his district. And clearly his district supported Trump and so does he.

    But he puts forward as a central organizing reason for the policy reversals that he hopes for, an ahistorical and obfuscating frame: “Instead of working with Congress and the American people to get his agenda passed… he did 80 to 90 percent of his work through executive order.”

    Given Mitch McConnell’s documented, non-stop, eight year long opposition to anything and everything that Obama set forth (and won on, twice!), it is duplicitous of Emmer to pretend that this president had a Congress that was willing to work with him for much of his presidency.

    Let’s look at Social Security. Obama was willing to advance legislation that was well to the right of the Democratic caucus, but the GOP just refused to even touch it. They could have participated in crafting and ACA that was (even) more to their liking that the Romney/Heritage Foundation underpinnings of the plan, but they refused.

    And as to the claim that Obama didn’t work with the American people, this is provably false. He won. Twice. The American people sufficiently liked and wanted what Obama was offering that they returned him to office even as the GOP grew in its intransigence.

    I will say that Emmer gets one thing right: “I don’t think America voted for Republicans,” they voted for change. Yes. But to think that an electoral college win that ranks in the lower one -quarter of margins, and a popular vote loss nationally is any mandate to upend popular things like Social Security, clean air and water, and a living wage for good work, would be overreach and a misreading of the change desired that may be epic in its reverberations for the GOP.

    We are in for difficult years ahead. I hope the version of Rep. Emmer that listens and is cautious is the one that helps advance our common, national interests. I wish him and all of us good luck.

    • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 12/12/2016 - 03:29 pm.

      Well done!

      Good response

      In that Trumps has backed away from most of his campaign promises I suspect voter remorse is high among those who voted for Trump. If they are not remorseful yet they will be when Trump finds out that he can no longer dictate, but will have to work with congress to get anything done. Trump may have to resort to the dreaded executive order to accomplish anything. The cheerful Republican are now made up of Republicans as well as Democrat that are still Democrats and Independents that are still independent but happened to vote for Trump. It will be tough to get anything done.

  2. Submitted by Jon Lord on 12/12/2016 - 11:33 am.

    Yes indeed

    The GOP ruled national congress vocally did everything they could to stop any legislation Obama favored. They stated that’s exactly what they meant to do. That will happen here in Minnesota too.

    Republicans are always for road repair when Democrats hold power, then are against road repair as frivolous spending when they hold power. It’s how they dance…

  3. Submitted by Bill Willy on 12/12/2016 - 12:18 pm.

    And then what?

    “In the first hundred days, the Affordable Care Act is going to be dealt with . . . the policy will take a little bit longer, but Obamacare as it exists is done. It will not exist after February.”

    Rep Emmer was, of course, careful to not say anything of substance whatsoever, but here’s an interesting Obamacare/MNSure-related thing:

    ” ‘The average tax credit this year is over $600 a month,’ said MNsure CEO Allison O’Toole. ‘That is more than $7,600 a year in savings and those tax credits act like instant discounts off premium and really the only way Minnesota can right now save on their health insurance.’ ”


    In other words, because of the way our health care system has been set up and operated, a substantial number of MN individuals and families (see: farmers, small business owners and employees, self-employed people, “gig economy” participants, etc.) NEED that $7,600 subsidy just to be able to access the health care they and their families need.

    Will those subsidies be gone by February? If so, and if he plans to vote for making Obamacare non-existent, what does Rep Emmer recommend those Minnesotans plan and try to budget for and, besides opening a “health savings account,” what does he recommend they do to ensure they can afford the care they and their families will need?

    And next time you talk to him (Sam) please ask him to explain his views on the difference between tax cuts (for upper income individuals and business, primarily) and tax reform which is what he said would be happening. Since he’ll be voting on that too, what, besides tax cuts, will that “reform” consist of?

    And speaking of access to health care, and while your at it, please ask Rep Emmer where he gets HIS health insurance, what kind of plan it is, how much it costs and whether he or his employer pays for it.


  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/12/2016 - 01:11 pm.

    Targets of the GOP:


    Medicare privatization

    Social security cuts

    Beyond that, a cabinet stuffed with people whose deepest desire is to bring up the cost of oil to around $100/barrel–that’s the point where the oil-shale boom can boom again and countries like Russia (yes, that Russia) can regain their economic footing again.

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/12/2016 - 01:16 pm.

    No point

    …in repeating what others have already said. Mr. Emmer may be more cautious now that he’s seen the federal government at closer quarters, but he’s being…um… disingenuous in suggesting that Obama somehow ruled by executive fiat. I’ve not read anything about what constitutional scholar Obama thinks about the expansion of executive powers under his watch, but Ralf Wyman is right on target in pointing out that Republican obstructionism has been an ongoing problem for the Obama agenda and administration from Day 1 of Obama’s term in office, and is primarily responsible for that expansion of the executive role.

    Unfortunately, if government by executive order is something Emmer dislikes, he’s going to be sadly disillusioned by the incoming President-elect, who has, so far, given no indication that he intends to forego that same sort of executive action. If/When the Republican-dominated Congress fails to go along with a Trump initiative, or in some other way refuses to cooperate – just as it did with Obama – I fully expect Mr. Trump to resort to executive orders – just as Obama did – in order to get his own agenda at least partially on the books.

  6. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 12/12/2016 - 04:00 pm.

    Imperial Presidency

    Emmer brings up an imperial Presidency as something the country needs to avoid. Hasn’t he noticed Trump’s off with their heads attitude? Trump blew a lot of smoke during the campaign, which Republicans now dismiss, but he obviously doesn’t get the “we” part of government, as in everyone has their appropriate role. And is he obviously to the Republican leadership to block everything Obama promised. Obama needed to use Executive Order to make up for lack of production out of the Republican Congress, with a House that wouldn’t even allow votes on any measure that a minority of Republicans supported, even thought the country was in favor of it and Democrats would have provided the votes to pass it. Republicans were tossing sand into the engine of government even though this made it diffcult to accomplish many of the simple things that virtually everyone expects government to do.

    Being bipartisan on a few Minnesota specific issues is a start, but with problems like rebuilding the middle class, improving the national health and dealing with immigration, we need all hands on board.

  7. Submitted by joe smith on 12/13/2016 - 08:25 am.

    Reduce taxes, eliminate useless regulations

    get folks working and fix the disaster that is Obamacare, that would be a great start at jump starting a stagnant economy. Folks don’t care about social issues they want jobs. If he can get the economy up to 3-4 % growth his 1st year (can’t be done according to most Dems) it will be a very successful start. We shall see, still not a huge fan of Trump but his pro-active approach to the job is impressive. So different from indifference Obama showed to the blue collar Rust Belt folks!

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/13/2016 - 10:57 am.

      What jobs ?The only way

      What jobs ?

      The only way Trump can practically “jump-start” the economy would be to sign a trillion-dollar public works program that will put lots of people to work in well-paid construction-type jobs paid for by borrowing from the public coffers.

      …Trump pledged in his victory speech that his administration would put “millions of our people to work” by rebuilding highways, bridges, tunnels and other infrastructure. During the campaign, Trump’s advisers floated a plan to pump $1 trillion of new infrastructure spending into the economy …
      (end quote)

      Now wasn’t this trillion dollar stimulus exactly what was stymied by the Republicans when proposed by Obama? Are Republicans becoming Keynesians (no, not Kenyans) ? Spending public money to stimulate the economy ? Is this the future of the Republican party and is this the deficit future your voted for ?

      As for private sector jobs–companies have the highest profits in decades so why hire more people (just inflates the cost factor). Even the proposed labor secretary is in favor of eliminating the bottom rung jobs of fast-food burger and fry cook.

      There is no practical proposal by the Trump people to address the fact of more people than jobs, and newer manufacturing processes have eliminate many jobs, and that the competition is world-wide.

      And remember, Trump’s long-held view that the reason why the US is losing jobs is that US workers are paid too much.

      Making America great ? For whom ?

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 12/13/2016 - 12:26 pm.

        Come On Neal!

        You know darn well the GOP only cares about the debt when they’re out of the White House. We’re all Keynesians now.

        And when it comes to military (notice I did not call it “defense”) spending, the GOP always likes to tout it as a jobs program. This despite it being no better than building pyramids in the dessert for creating jobs. (Actually, given how weapons production is capital intensive, the pyramids are a better bet by far.)

      • Submitted by joe smith on 12/13/2016 - 01:32 pm.

        Geeze, how did those companies grow

        and have the highest profit margins in decades (while shipping US good jobs overseas at a record rate) under that champion of the Middle Class Obama? 1% has never done better than under Obama, you think the liberals (we care about the middle class folks) would be looking for a change? Current Obama administration had NO business experience in the real world. Time will tell but beating the worst 8 years of growth since WWII shouldn’t be that hard of a lift for businessmen.

        • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 12/13/2016 - 02:44 pm.


          Unemployment 2009 9.9%, today < 4.9%: Stock market: DJIA 2009 6626, today 19.915 Foreclosures: 2009 3 million, ~ 533,813 Uninsured 2009 ~ 15%, 2016 ~ 9% In case it was missed: Change: Unemployment down over 50% Change: Business/Stk market up ~ 3X Change: Foreclosures down ~ 83% Change more people with Health insurance ~ 6% ~ 13,000,000 people Based on Emmer's own words (Obama more or less had to do it him self by decree! Taxes more or less un-changed Guess this is all bad change! You always say less regulation: could it be a little more specific? Easier to pollute the commons (air, water, land) with out public recourse? Easier to fire people? Easier to discriminate? Easier to take over public lands and exploit the resources with out compensation to the people? Easier for rich people, like Trump to never pay income tax?

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/13/2016 - 08:36 am.

    Over the cliff…

    Trump did go over the cliff, Emmer just doesn’t realize it yet. So here he is proposing the same defunct policies that have failed American’s repeatedly over the last 40 years. Someone needs to tell guys like Emmer that his agenda isn’t “change”, quite the opposite. Sure, they “won”, but resuscitating the health care crises, plunging the economy into another recession, and stomping on the weak, poor, and colored of skin, isn’t the “change” people were demanding. Trickle down economics and militarism aren’t “new” directions for America.

    Trump explicitly rejected key pillars of the traditional republican platform that Emmer is so enamored with, so if he thinks cramming a privatized social security system down America’s throat is what the Dr. ordered he’s in for a rude awakening.

  9. Submitted by Jon Lord on 12/17/2016 - 04:28 pm.

    This is the thing with right wing capitalists…truth is just an opinion. It’s ‘let the buyer beware’ and this country just bought into their rhetoric. For the second time in 16 years. America seems like it has a memory only 8 years long.

    I’ve just read that the baby boomers, one of the largest generational groups, are about to finally end up on Social Security. I wonder what drove so many of them to vote for Trump and the GOP. Especially since the right wing position on Social Security will hurt them. Were they hearing lies? Or just closed their eyes.

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