There’s no mystery about why Donald Trump is working with Democrats. He wants to win.
After watching for months as the Republicans on Capitol Hill failed to accomplish much, Trump finally turned to the Democrats. There, he found success.
“He just wants points on the board,” said a former Trump adviser who is in regular contact with the White House. “There’s nothing ideological. There’s nothing principled. He just wants a win.”
Last week, Trump struck a deal with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California on spending money for hurricane aid, raising the federal borrowing limit and funding the federal government through December.
Another former Trump adviser said the president relished the positive publicity he received after he made the first deal and craved it again. “We do know he’s attracted to positive headlines,” said the former aide, who is in close contact with the White House.
If he stays the course I think there will be more people trying to work with him and if he's open to suggestions and differences that we may have we can work our pathways forward
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
No one expects the dealmaking between the conservative Republican president and the Democratic leaders to be finished.
Even Republicans expect the two sides to work together on updating the U.S. tax code, spending billions of dollars on the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges and once again keeping the government open after current funding ends in December.
Trump has been frustrated since day one with the bad publicity stemming from the multiple investigations into his aides’ possible involvement into Russian meddling in the presidential election, staffer infighting and leaks. It was only compounded by the lack of legislative achievements by his party’s leaders in Congress.
The last straw was Capitol Hill’s failure to achieve the GOP’s top priority — repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have pushed for seven years.
“He’s motivated by wins. He’s motivated by movement,” said Scott Jennings, political director for former President George W. Bush who is close to the Trump White House. “He’s a salesman. He wants things to sell.”
Trump and Schumer may have even agreed to a third deal to permanently remove the requirement that Congress continuously raise the debt ceiling, according to some published reports. The string of agreements had some close to Trump citing his best-selling book, The Art of the Deal.
But the agreements with Democrats – even the possibility of agreements – left conservative Republicans grumbling about the not-so-conservative policy achievements and more mainstream Republicans chafing about being excluded.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who met with Trump Wednesday, said he felt confident that the president had not abandoned his party. “The president is still working with Republicans to achieve tax reform and other priorities,” he said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky embraced the budget and debt deal last week after Trump publicly embarrassed them with the news. Congress quickly passed a bill so Trump could sign it into law.
But on Thursday, while McConnell said he looked forward to receiving the immigration proposal, Ryan pushed back.
“I think the president understands he has to work with the congressional majorities to get any kind of legislative solution,” Ryan said at his weekly news conference. “There is no agreement. It was a discussion, not an agreement or a negotiation.”
Some Republicans said Ryan and McConnell should welcome a deal on the so-called Dreamers because it takes pressure off them to craft a bill that protects immigrants who are in the country illegally – which some conservatives quickly dubbed “amnesty” – while helping a group that the majority of Americans support.
Last week, Trump began to shut down the popular Obama-era program that protects young people brought into the country illegally as children. The president urged Congress to help Dreamers as part of a larger immigration package that included money to fund a wall on the southern border.
Jennings said Trump, whose presidential campaign had reducing illegal immigration as its centerpiece, is the best person to sell the Dreamers deal to conservatives. The right haws stuck with the president through scandals, flip-flops, such as his policy on Afghanistan, and legislative failures.
Trump is now eying more deals.
If they’re unable to stick together then I’m going to have to get a little help from the Democrats and I’ve got that
President Donald Trump on Republicans
He has already started working with Democrats on overhauling the nation’s tax code. He dined recently with a half dozen Democrats, invited a dozen House Democrats to the White House and launched a series of campaign-style rallies in states where he hopes to work with Democratic senators.
The White House is taking particular interest in Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. All three declined to sign a Senate Democratic caucus letter to Trump and congressional leaders vowing to oppose a tax plan that adds to the deficit or cuts taxes for the wealthy. Last week, Heitkamp accompanied him to North Dakota.
“I’ll tell you for the tax bill I would be very surprised if I don’t have at least a few Democrats,” Trump told reporters Thursday. “I do believe we’ll have some Democratic votes.”
After tax reform, Trump could look to Democrats to help him with his campaign pledge to grow jobs with an infrastructure investment of $1 trillion or more. He appears to have little support for a big-money federal jobs program from Ryan and McConnell, who are more eager to cut taxes and reduce federal spending. They re philosophically opposed to economic stimulus programs.
Manchin, who was invited to a two-hour dinner at the White House earlier this week, said he gave Trump credit for reaching out to his party on areas where lawmakers could find common ground, particularly on tax reform.
“This is the way the process should work,” the senator told reporters. “The president should give us what he wants [on taxes], what he thinks is best for the American people. We agree, we disagree, we make some alterations and changes. That's the process. We haven't seen it in so long (that) we don't know how it's supposed to work.”