While Americans are rightly focused on Hurricane Irma and the impending landfall somewhere along the coast of Florida this Saturday, the federal government is dealing back and forth over the debt ceiling and Harvey relief funding. The Trump-Schumer-Pelosi deal, as it’s being called, has paired funding for Hurricane Harvey relief to raising the debt ceiling, but gives Republicans nothing in return for doing so. The deal was even worse than that for the Republican leadership, who days earlier had claimed that no such deal would be feasible or be put on the table.
Start with the GOP reaction, from CNN:
President Donald Trump surprised the leaders of his own party in Congress on Wednesday when he backed a deal pushed by Democrats to attach hurricane relief money to a shorter-term bump in the debt ceiling as well as keeping the government open, cutting off his own Treasury secretary to strike a deal.
The decision was one of the most fascinating and mysterious moves he’s made with Congress during eight months in office.
The remarkable turn of events left Republican congressional leaders, in control of both chambers of the legislative branch, “shell-shocked” and “visibly annoyed,” and showcased how a President who also authored “The Art of the Deal” actually cuts one.
Trump’s stunning agreement to endorse a plan proposed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi came during a Wednesday morning meeting with leaders from both parties in the Oval Office, the first such meeting of Trump’s presidency.
Several Republicans briefed on the meeting said that Trump, who has been absent a major legislative achievement for his first seven months in office, was hungry for a deal. It also came after he was warned of a packed legislative calendar that could have pushed off tax reform past this fall.
“The President was in deal-cutting mode,” a Republican familiar with the meeting told CNN. “He was sick of this fight.” [Emphasis added]
There are a few ways to look at this ordeal, and it probably depends on your partisan leanings, but the last sentence I highlighted is probably key. For the past several months, Trump hasn’t won much legislatively. He’s been close, but the GOP infighting has been too much to overcome for Mitch McConnell in the Senate. As such, there was always a lingering threat that Trump would simply ditch the GOP and start cutting deals with the Democrats, assuming enough of the GOP would come on board with whatever deal they came up with.
Rather than risk weeks of infighting and deadlines looming, it looks to me as if the President simply wanted to walk away having “solved” the problem. This way he can tout that funding relief for those devastated by Hurricane Harvey is on the way, and prove he is able to cut deals to get things done.
That leaves the Republican in an awfully tough spot, despite holding the House and Senate.
As evidence of the “winning” desire, see this piece from Politico which describes how Trump has enjoyed seeing the positive coverage of his deal in the media:
But in calls with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi Thursday morning, Trump raved about the positive news coverage it had received, according to people familiar with the calls, and he seemed very pleased with his decision.
Trump specifically mentioned TV segments praising the deal and indicated he’d been watching in a call with Schumer, two people said. And he was jovial in a call with Pelosi and agreed to send a tweet she asked for about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, these people said, while also mentioning the attention the deal had gotten. He indicated to both leaders he would be willing to work together again.
“He seemed super upbeat,” one person familiar with the calls said.
Another person familiar with the calls said Trump told Pelosi her coverage was even better than his. “The press has been incredible,” Trump said.
That’s … a stark reversal from calling media outlets “fake news,” to saying the “press has been incredible.” As a businessman, Donald Trump has always operated under the belief that even bad publicity is good. I’m beginning to wonder if someone within his inner circle has convinced him otherwise, perhaps to a small extent. Then again, he is known for changing his mind and/or changing the narrative on the drop of a hat as soon as the stories start turning negative.
Back to the CNN article, welcome to the Oval office version of The Apprentice:
A senior Republican source described Trump as being in “Apprentice” mode, a reference to the reality show that made the President a TV star. Trump just decided to listen and then make a decision on the spot, the source told CNN.
McConnell and Ryan were “blindsided by this,” a Republican official told CNN. In fact, hours before Trump agreed to Democrats’ proposal, Ryan had publicly called such a plan “ridiculous” during a news conference. The GOP leaders had no heads up or warning that Trump’s decision would happen, Republican officials told CNN. Another senior GOP source described the two leaders as “shell-shocked.”
It would be fitting if Omarosa was tasked to oversee progress and report back to The Donald in the
boardroom Oval Office.