-- In a briefing with reporters this afternoon, White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short acknowledged that the investigation into Russian election interference and possible collusion with the Trump campaign makes advancing the White House legislative agenda on Capitol Hill more difficult.
"There is no doubt that keeping members focused on investigations detracts from our legislative agenda and detracts from what we’re trying to deliver to the American people, to what extent I think is hard for me to answer," Short said Monday.
Asked more broadly about the challenges posed by the president going off-message on Twitter, Short countered that the president usually helps advance the White House agenda.
"I think that the president is often very effective in driving our message in Congress, and I think that’s why you’re going to see him engaged the way he is this week," Short said.
Short later offered a more direct endorsement of the president’s effectiveness as a messenger.
"I think that the president’s efforts have been helpful to us, period," he said.
Health care and tax reform continue to be at the top of the priority list, Short said. The White House's legislative push heading into the summer, he added, will be on healthcare and the fiscal year 2018 budget. In the fall, the White House hopes to turn the focus to reconciling the budget with tax reform.
As for a package on infrastructure, which has been the White House's policy focus this week, Short said the goal is to accomplish legislation “this calendar year.”
"The plan will provide tax cuts by simplifying the tax code, broadening the base and increasing growth," he said.
As for health care, Short said a reconciliation bill is still expected. He suggested that the changes made by the Senate will not represent a dramatic departure from the House version.
"I think that there’s a natural step in which each chamber says they are going to start over but I think at the end of the day," he said, "there’s going to be a lot of similarities."
Pre-existing conditions, which have been a major sticking point in the negotiation process, will be handled in a similar fashion to how they were handled in the House bill that was passed in early May, he indicated.
Short wouldn’t reveal when a vote might come to the Senate floor, but said they have discussed the matter with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who signaled that the Senate is far along in producing its own text.
On raising the debt ceiling, Short confirmed that it needs to be accomplished before Congress adjourns for the summer, but wouldn’t answer whether the White House endorses a clean extension or will tie it to spending cuts.
"We look forward to working with Congress to figure out the right vehicle on that," he said.
Short also pointed to human trafficking as another legislative priority and signaled that first daughter Ivanka Trump will take an active role in the coming months to promote action on the issue both domestically and globally.