Trump strikes a budget deal with Democrats ‘Chuck and Nancy’, brushing aside his own Republicans
In a bizarre day, US President overrides his own party to side with Democrats
US President Donald Trump briskly overruled congressional Republicans and his own treasury secretary Wednesday to cut a deal with Democrats to keep the government operating and raise America’s debt limit.
The immediate goal was ensuring money for hurricane relief, but in the process the president brazenly rolled his own party’s leaders.
In deal-making mode, Trump sided with the Democratic leaders – “Chuck and Nancy” as he amiably referred later to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – as they pushed for the three-month deal, brushing aside the urgings of Republican Party leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for a much longer extension to the debt limit.
Republicans want that longer allowance to avoid having to take another vote on the politically toxic issue before the 2018 congressional elections.
The session painted a vivid portrait of discord at the highest ranks of the Republican Party. After an angry August that Trump spent lobbing attacks at fellow Republicans, specifically targeting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for the failure of health care legislation, the president wasted little time once Congress came back this week in demonstrating his disdain for the Republican Party House and Senate leaders charged with shepherding his agenda into law.
At first, in Wednesday’s Oval Office meeting, the Republicans lobbied for an 18-month debt ceiling extension, then 12 months and then six, but Trump waved them off.
As Mnuchin continued to press an economic argument in favour of a longer term, Trump tired of it and cut him off mid-sentence.
Details of the meeting were disclosed by several people briefed on the proceedings who spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk publicly.
One photo taken through the window of the Oval Office showed an animated Schumer pointing his finger in Trump’s face as the president smiles with his hands on his fellow New Yorker’s arms.
After the meeting, Trump boarded a plane to North Dakota with Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp in an effort to garner bipartisan support for tax legislation that Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are crafting on a purely partisan basis. That continued the day of bizarre disconnects between the president and the leaders of his party.
Aboard Air Force One, Trump told reporters, “We had a very good meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.”
He didn’t mention Republicans McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who also had been present. “We agreed to a three-month extension on debt ceiling, which they consider to be sacred, very important.”
“I think the deal will be very good,” Trump added.
Barely an hour earlier, Ryan had slammed the Democrats’ demand for a three-month extension as “ridiculous and disgraceful.” He issued no public statement on the final deal.
Asked whether he was surprised to see the president side with Democrats against his own party leadership, McConnell responded: “Look, the president can speak for himself, but his feeling was we needed to come together, not create a picture of divisiveness at a time of genuine national crisis, and that was the rationale.”
The deal struck Wednesday at the White House promises to speed the US$7.9 billion Hurricane Harvey aid bill, which passed the House overwhelmingly Wednesday, to Trump’s desk before disaster accounts run out later this week. The debt ceiling and government funding extensions will be attached.
The move also buys almost three months, until December 15, for Washington to try to solve myriad other issues, including more funding for the military, immigration and health care, and a longer-term increase in the government’s borrowing authority to avoid a first-ever default. Adding the stopgap funding bill to the Harvey aid package would also immediately free about $7 billion in additional disaster funds.
Schumer was as pleased in the aftermath as McConnell was dour.
“Today was a good day in a generally partisan town,” he said.
“The bottom line is, the president listened to the arguments. We think we made a very reasonable and strong argument. And, to his credit, he went with the better argument.”