Washington’s political establishment is reeling a day after President Trump blindsided Republican Congressional leaders, siding with Democrats on a three-month debt ceiling extension that puts his own party in an awkward spot with mid-term elections little more than a year away.
“It’s just a betrayal of everything we’ve been talking about for years as Republicans,” influential former Senator Jim DeMint said in an interview with Politico.
The chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Mark Meadows was more conciliatory. At a Bloomberg News breakfast meeting Thursday with Congressional reporters, Meadows said Trump had told him he had cut the debt ceiling deal so he could focus attention on tax reform. He is “myopically focused on trying to get tax reform,” Meadows said.
The deal left Republican Congressional leaders, House Majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell land House Speaker Paul Ryan, in an embarrassing position. Hours before meeting Trump with other Congressional leaders at the White House Wednesday, Ryan had called the idea of a three-month debt extension “ridiculous,” telling reporters it was “disgraceful that they [Democrats] want to play politics with the debt ceiling.”
But many Trump supporters cheered the president’s rebuke of the Republican leadership. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, in an interview with Fox News, called the deal a “shrewd move” designed to put pressure on his own party to deliver legislative victories that voters had expected when they elected Republicans to control both houses of Congress.
“They’re [voters] not as unhappy with the president as the American people are unhappy with this Republican Congress,” Huckabee said. “There is outrage for not being able to deliver to a president. I think there’s an extraordinary exasperation on the part of the public.”
Democrats were exultant at the deal. Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer called it a “positive step forward” that would avoid default and get money quickly to hurricane victims in Texas and Louisiana. “The nation can breathe a sigh of relief,” Schumer said Thursday on the Senate floor.
Several Senate Republicans tried to put the best face they could on the deal. “The Senate will soon consider legislation that will keep the government’s lights on until December 8 and increase the nation’s borrowing capacity, said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn. “That’s important, because without lifting the debt limit, we couldn’t actually vote for and send aid to the victims of Harvey.”
Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse mocked the deal in a news release, however, calling on fellow Republicans to reject it. “Yesterday we saw Washington’s swamp continue to rise: Chuck Schumer wrote the art of the steal by taking hurricane relief hostage to guarantee a December showdown that favors Democratic spending priorities,” Sasse said.
Kicking ‘a hornet’s nest’
Speaker Ryan was more reflective at a meeting with reporters Thursday, saying the president had made clear he was looking for a “bipartisan moment,” with the country facing two hurricanes, when he agreed to the three-month debt ceiling extension. Ryan said his objection was based more on the effect the deal would have on financial markets.
“I was making an economic point,” Ryan said, “which is that with respect to the credit markets, stability and longevity are key.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement confirming that Trump held early morning conversations Thursday with senators McConnell and Schumer, as well as Speaker Ryan and Minority Leader Pelosi. “The president is committed to working across the aisle and doing what is needed to best serve the American people.”
Presidential scholar Dan Mahaffee of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress said Trump’s decision to work with Congressional Democrats had “kicked a hornet’s nest.”
“It reflects the outcome of eight months of frustration for President Trump in working with Congress and the GOP Congressional leadership,” Mahaffee said. “Trump is now feeling out what deals might be made with Democrats, and how that might be able to make up for the GOP’s inability to find consensus on important policy goals."
Trump’s newly chummy relationship with Democrats appeared to take another twist Thursday when he acceded to another request from the opposition leadership. After a phone conversation with minority leader Pelosi, the president issued a tweet advising those affected by the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that they have nothing to worry about. Pelosi confirmed to reporters that she had asked Trump to issue the tweet.