This is the Donald Trump many Republicans feared.
The president delivered a resounding victory to congressional Democrats Wednesday – and embarrassed stunned Republican leaders – when he agreed on a plan to raise the debt ceiling, provide aid to storm-ravaged Texas and keep the federal government running through Dec. 15. And he may have made it easier for Democrats to overturn his plan to kick Dreamers out of the country in six months.
Just hours before Trump and top congressional Democrats agreed on the deal at a White House meeting that included Republican leaders, House Speaker Paul Ryan had called the idea of tying storm aid to the debt limit as “ridiculous and disgraceful.” Senate GOP leaders had made it clear they wanted a longer debt limit extension.
Those hopes evaporated quickly, and after the late morning White House meeting, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., reluctantly went along with the deal. But he carefully labeled it a solution “the president and the Senate and House Democratic leadership agreed to.”
Republicans have long been worried that Trump, who at times was a registered Democrat, would look to cut deals with the opposition party to secure victories – which he has had trouble achieving even with a Republican-led Congress.
Trump in recent weeks has been clearly and publicly frustrated with Republican leaders, notably McConnell. He was angry the Senate was unable to repeal Obamacare. His administration has made it clear it wanted quick action on the debt ceiling, which is expected to be reached later this month. Republican leaders had sought an 18-month extension, and later cut that to six months.
The deal, though, could reverberate farther. It gives Democrats new hope for keeping Dreamers in the country. Trump Tuesday said he would end the Obama-era program for Dreamers, the 800,000 young people whose parents entered the country illegally. He gave Congress six months to act. Democrats are solidly behind the Dreamers, but need Republican votes to keep the program alive. They’re hoping to find support among GOP lawmakers in California, Texas and Florida.
Longtime supporter Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., noted that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told Trump it was the “highest priority” for Democrats.
Trump seemingly agreed, telling reporters aboard Air Force One that he would be open to signing such legislation.
“Chuck and Nancy would like to see something happen, and so do I,” Trump said of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, referring to the Democratic leaders by their first name
McConnell and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., cast the entire deal as a one-time agreement, contending that Trump was looking to inject some bipartisan bonhomie in the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction.
“His feeling was that we needed to come together, to not create a picture of divisiveness at a time of genuine national crisis,” McConnell said. “That was the rationale, I’m confident, for his decision.”
The White House insisted that the move would allow Congress and the administration to focus on other important legislative priorities.
“Helping to clear the decks in September enables us to focus on tax reform for the American people,” Marc Short, Trump’s director of legislative affairs, told reporters. Short said he planned to meet Thursday with members of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of about 40 staunch conservatives who often resist efforts to lift the debt ceiling – and would now have to vote twice this year under Trump’s plan.
Whether the influential caucus led by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., would go along remained uncertain. The House passed aid for Harvey, 419 to 3, Wednesday. The measure was not tied to the debt ceiling, and conservatives said they were reluctant to accept any link.
Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., accused Trump of abandoning Republican leaders.
“That is another slap in the face of the House leadership and the Senate leadership,” Jones said. He said he feared that Trump would “absolutely” readily make deals with the opposition party.
“He can’t keep his story straight – it’s this on Wednesday and that on Thursday,” Jones said.
Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, told reporters who surrounded him at the House that he personally wouldn’t have done the deal.
“I think it was a magnanimous act by the president. I think it was an overly generous answer that he gave our friends, the Democrats,” Sessions said. “But I’m not going to be critical of my president. I support my president.”
Republicans at least for now have to deal with newly resurgent Democrats, who have been virtually powerless since Trump became president and Republicans maintained their hold on Congress.
Democrats were nearly giddy after finding a surprising new ally during the White House meeting with leaders of both parties.
“Today was a good day in a generally very partisan town,” Schumer told reporters at the Capitol. “We came to a happy ending.”
That essentially echoed Trump, who trumpeted the deal aboard Air Force One as he headed to North Dakota to promote tax reform.
"We essentially came to a deal, and I think the deal will be very good," Trump said. "We had a very, very cordial and professional meeting."