Democrats gloat, Republicans feel betrayed after Trump cuts deal on hurricane relief
The Senate approved a package deal on Thursday afternoon struck between President Donald Trump and the Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress to add a three-month government spending bill and debt ceiling hike to more than $15 billion-worth of disaster relief.
While many Democrats cheered what appeared to be a moment of bipartisanship, a number of Republicans argued that the compromise undercut their own party.
Before the vote, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse (Neb.) tried to provide an "off-ramp," proposing a clean Harvey relief bill in place of a deal he said essentially sold-out the Republican-controlled Congress.
"Chuck Schumer, whose title is minority leader, not majority, just made himself the most powerful man in America for the month of December," Sasse charged.
Expressing more than a little sense of betrayal, the freshman senator concluded, "This is an embarrassing moment for a Republican-controlled Congress and a Republican administration."
On the other side of the aisle, members were relishing the victory.
"He is a consummate dealmaker," said Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, whose home state of Florida is now threatened by Hurricane Irma.
Nelson was not talking about the author of 'The Art of the Deal,' he was talking about Minority Leader Schumer, who he said secured the bipartisan agreement "with flying colors."
After passing the Senate by a vote of 80 to 17, the package deal heads to the House, where Republicans vowed to stay in session until they had a Hurricane Harvey relief bill ready for the president's signature.
HOW THE DEAL WENT DOWN:
The package the Senate agreed to, based on the compromise at the White House, will provide $15 billion of new emergency funds to the victims of Hurricane Harvey and other disasters, avoid a government shutdown and debt default for the next three months.
Before the meeting at the White House on Wednesday, Republicans in Congress were strongly opposed to the idea of a short-term hike in the nation's borrowing limit. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) even publicly criticized the idea as "unworkable," "ridiculous and disgraceful."
Ryan did not realize, that was the deal President Trump was willing to cut with Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.).
The minority leadership came to the Oval Office with a guarantee to deliver a large number of Democratic votes to fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and disaster relief efforts in exchange for a three-month suspension of the debt ceiling.
Many leading Republicans, and even Trump's Treasury Secretary, were holding out for an 18-month extension on the debt ceiling hike, in the hopes of avoiding an uncertain vote in December on such a polarizing issue within the party.Secretary, were holding out for an 18-month extension on the debt ceiling hike, in the hopes of avoiding an uncertain vote in December on such a polarizing issue within the party.
When asked if the president had undermined his own opening position, Speaker Ryan demurred. "The president made it really clear and what he was aiming for in that meeting yesterday was a bipartisan moment while the country is facing two horrible hurricanes." He added, "I think that's what his motivation was."
According to Nancy Pelosi, the sweetest part of the deal was not offered by Trump, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
The deal became "persuasive," Pelosi said, when McConnell offered to tack-on a short-term continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government for the next three months. Having two must-pass measures requiring bipartisan support would put the Democrats in a much more advantageous position in December.
"That's really what actually strengthened our hand for 3 months," the Democratic leader said of McConnell's offer.
REPUBLICANS SEE POOR LEADERSHIP:
In both the House and Senate, a number of Republicans expressed their disappointment in their own leadership.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) suggested that Ryan's willingness to bypass the Republican conference and cut a deal with Democrats could jeopardize his position in leadership and further divide the House GOP.
"That's one of those things that cost John Boehner his speakership," King said referring to the ousted former Speaker of the House.
King also expressed his disappointment in the president who compromised with the Democrats. "I think if he gets some pushback on this, and he is, he'll reconsider this tactic going forward," King said.
The congressman, who has been intensely loyal to Trump, noted that he is still very much in favor of the president's agenda and will continue to push it through Congress "with or without Donald Trump."
Sen. John McCain, who has passionately encouraged members to work across the aisle said the deal on Harvey aid was not what he was talking about.
"I would not call that bipartisanship," he said. "I would call it the president cut a deal with the Democrats."
McCain questioned Trump's approach, which effectively undercut the public positions staked out by his own party's leaders. "If that's the way the president wants to do business, it's up to the president. I just don't call it bipartisanship."
Trump defended the deal on Thursday, saying it's what the American people want. "They want to see some dialogue, they want to see some coming together."
AN 'ERA OF GOOD FEELINGS' FOR THE TWO PARTIES?
The natural disasters hitting the country have provided a brief respite from the typical partisan turmoil, but it is unlikely that this "bipartisan moment" will be extended to the two parties' top priorities in the coming months: tax reform and protecting the immigrants shielded from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Last week Trump retracted the Obama-era executive order protecting DACA recipients, giving Congress six months to either pass a law protecting minors brought to the country illegally, or he will begin unwinding the program.
Nancy Pelosi raised the issue with President Trump during the Wednesday meeting and again in a Thursday morning phone call, where Trump reportedly said "he supports" the Dreamers and if Congress passes the Dream Act "he would sign it."
Pelosi said she pressed Trump to publicly reassure the thousands of Dreamers around the country that the next six months would not be a period of "round-up."
The leader noted that shortly after their call, Trump composed a tweet which read, "For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about - no action!"
Republican lawmakers remain wary and are hoping to get additional border security, and potentially funding for the border wall, in exchange for protecting Dreamers.
On the Republican's number one priority, tax reform, President Trump made an optimistic appeal for bipartisan support at a policy address in North Dakota. The president called the North Dakota congressional delegation to the stage including Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, the state's sole Democrat holding a toss-up seat in the 2018 election.
"These are great people. They work hard. They're for you 100 percent," Trump said before turning directly to Heitkamp, asking for her support with tax reform and praising her as a "good woman."
After an early Thursday morning meeting at the White House to discuss tax reform, Speaker Ryan expressed some optimism that Democrats could support the GOP tax plan.
"I hope the Democrats join us on tax reform, I think it's fantastic if they do," Ryan said, "I've heard from quite a few Democrats lately that they like what we're talking about."
That may be true as far as simplifying the tax code and providing incentives for companies to keep operations in the U.S., but for a number of Democrats, like Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the proposed tax cuts for high-earners is no-go.
"The Democrats support genuine tax reform. We don't support tax reform as just a cover for tax cuts for the rich," Van Hollen said, noting that the few specifics that have emerged on Trump's tax plan are concerning.
After a politically heated August recess and the failure of the one-party only health care reform, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) predicted "the dynamic in the Senate would be dramatically different when we came back."
The failure of the Republican health vote was particularly, telling he noted. "I think it pointed out that just talking to one side, you've really got limited options. Talk to both sides and other doors open."