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Trump shocks GOP by siding with Dems
President Trump shocked Republicans on Wednesday by making a deal with Democrats to prevent a government shutdown, raise the debt ceiling and provide aid to communities hit by Hurricane Harvey – right in front of his own party's leaders at the White House.
The surprise deal left Republicans in despair and Democrats expressing glee.
"I just think it could be a much better deal than it is. And I think they need more time," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) characterized the deal as a "happy ending" that was for the "good of the nation."
Trump acted just hours after Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) described a similar deal offered by Democrats as "ridiculous" and accused them of playing politics with a national disaster. That offer tied a three-month debt limit hike to Harvey aid but left out government funding.
Hours later, Trump signed off on a package that included all three items at a meeting attended by Schumer, Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
In the House, conservatives lamented that Trump's deal with Democrats included no meaningful reforms to rein in spending and debt.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the House Freedom Caucus's chairman, offered a bit of cover for the president.
"I think there were no conservative solutions offered to the president in relationship to addressing the debt ceiling," Meadows told reporters just off the House floor.
But he also suggested that Trump's deal would not lead to a better outcome for Republicans in December, when Congress will be confronted with new deadlines to raise the debt ceiling and keep the government open.
"If this plays into a long-term strategy that has conservative wins, I'm willing to reconsider. At this point, I don't see that end-game being very obvious," Meadows said.
Congress is now expected to approve a package as soon as this week that would include $7.85 billion targeted toward Hurricane Harvey and would raise the debt ceiling and fund the government through Dec. 15.
Trump agreed to the Pelosi-Schumer demands even as Ryan, McConnell and the president's own Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, called for a longer-term debt-limit hike.
"We essentially came to a deal, and I think the deal will be very good," Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One as he traveled Wednesday afternoon to North Dakota, where he gave a speech touting tax reform.
Republicans initially pushed for an 18-month debt-limit extension, which would have kicked a new hike past the midterm elections.
When Democrats objected, they floated six months, only to see Schumer and Pelosi dismiss that proposal and insist on three months, sources familiar with the meeting told The Hill.
After a brief standoff, congressional leaders thought there would be no deal. But then Trump interjected and told the leaders that they all should just agree to a three-month extension for the debt limit and a continuing resolution to fund the government.
The White House later hailed the decision as providing room for the president and Congress to work on tax reform.
"We believe that helping to clear the decks in September enables us to focus on tax reform for the American people," White House legislative affairs director Marc Short told reporters on Air Force One. "We need to get the economy growing again, and that's what we need to focus on."
McConnell said he would support an agreement he characterized as a deal between the "president and the Senate and House Democratic leadership."
"The president agreed with Sen. Schumer and Congresswoman Pelosi to do a three-month [continuing resolution] and a debt ceiling. ... We'll try to get 60 votes and move forward," said McConnell, who in August was repeatedly criticized by Trump in public.
McConnell, asked if he was surprised that the president "sided with Democrats," downplayed any signs of Republican division.
"[The president's] feeling was that we needed to come together, to not create a picture of divisiveness at a time of genuine national crisis," he said.
The agreement leaves leadership with a tough sell to their rank-and-file members, who want to back relief for Harvey victims but do not want to vote on legislation that raises the debt ceiling or a funding bill that does nothing to restrict future government spending.
And it leaves them in a potentially worse situation in December.
"Massive deals and cliffs and omnibuses that take place right before the holidays end up being very bad for conservatives, the country, the next generation and especially the forgotten man, the one without a lobbyist," Freedom Caucus Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), a Trump ally, told The Hill.
The House passed a stand-alone Harvey aid bill on Wednesday in a 419-3 vote, but the next package is likely to get more opposition despite the hurricane aid.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said that if leadership is "going to further mortgage your kids future" it should get a better deal.
"If you're going to increase the debt ceiling, at a minimum you should get some kind of meaningful, structural reform out of it," he said.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) added separately that "the Pelosi-Schumer-Trump deal is bad."
And a spokesman for Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said it was "very safe" to assume he would oppose the agreement.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), whose state was hit hard by the hurricane, is pushing for a stand-alone bill but stopped short of saying he will vote against it if it's attached to the debt ceiling.
"The best way for that relief package to move quickly is for it to be a clean package," he told reporters before the deal was announced.
Some Republicans acknowledged that Democrats would have greater leverage heading into the December fights. "I wouldn't argue with that," said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), a member of the GOP whip team.
And it wasn't hard to tell that Democrats felt good about the deal from Schumer's public remarks before the cameras after the Senate's lunches.
"The bottom line is the president listened to the arguments," he told reporters. "We think we made a very reasonable and strong argument. And to his credit, he went with the better argument."
[Source: By Jordain Carney, Niv Elis and Scott Wong, The Hill, Washington, 06Sep17]
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