President Donald Trump had a message for the American people on Tuesday: He was actually the big winner on the budget agreement reached this week.
Democrats may be ecstatic and conservative Republicans, livid, but Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, insisted the administration had won. How? By securing an additional $21 billion in defense spending; gaining money for miners’ health care in Appalachia, and keeping pro-gun and pro-life protections. The budget deal even allows the administration to replace fencing on the border with, well, taller fencing.
“The president actually cut a tremendous deal for the American people,” he told reporters.
In addition, he said the administration managed to break an unwritten rule on Capitol Hill, that defense spending needed to be matched dollar for dollar by non-defense spending.
“We got $21 billion of new defense spending for less than $5 billion of non-defense spending, OK?” he said. “We didn’t go dollar for dollar.”
It was Mulvaney’s third attempt in 24 hours to claim Trump did not lose, which included two conference calls, one of which was mired in technical difficulties in which he was drowned out by the song “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
The regular White House press briefing was his third, and Mulvaney spoke to a packed room. Press Secretary Sean Spicer was expected to take additional questions after Mulvaney finished, but instead got up and walked out, leaving a room of startled reporters waiting for him to come back.
There’s little doubt conservatives feel betrayed by the budget deal.
“One has to wonder if the Democrats are the majority party in Congress,” said Mat Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a group that advocates for conservative social policies. “The Republican Congress lacks real leadership. They will pay the price for not leading.”
But some Democrats quickly praised the deal as a bipartisan compromise. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said the deal was struck the way it was supposed to be.
“We’re supposed to come together and find places of agreement,” McCaskill said. “I supported the increases in funding to the military but there were many in my party that didn’t. But there were enough of us who did.”
That, too, was Trump’s position on Twitter.
“After years of partisan bickering and gridlock, this bill is a clear win for the American people,” he said before an unrelated event in the Rose Garden. “We brought lawmakers together from both sides of the aisle to deliver a budget that funds the rebuilding of the United States military, makes historic investments in border security, and provides health care for our miners and school choice for our disadvantaged children.”
But the signs of discontent were visible even from members of Trump’s Cabinet.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was visibly upset when he spoke to reporters at the White House about the budget deal’s lack of money for a new border wall.
“I am shocked at the behavior of some individuals in public service . . . They’re rejoicing in the fact that that wall will be slower to be built and consequently our southwest border under less control than it could be,” he said, before walking away without taking questions.
And House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. told her colleagues this week the bill “reflects significant progress defeating dangerous Republican riders and securing key victories for Democratic priorities.”
Mulvaney criticized Democrats for trying to “claim victory.”
“If you’re in a bipartisan meeting, I think it’s very unusual for one group to walk out and start spiking the football and say, ‘Hey, we won. We killed the other guys.’ And it certainly doesn’t bode very well for future discussions.”
Lindsay Wise contributed to this article.