The deal Donald Trump cut with congressional Democratic leaders to bundle disaster relief with a short-term spending extension and debt limit increase has stunned Republicans. That he sprang the deal in a public meeting attended by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell gave new meaning to the term “adding insult to injury.” And the congressional Republicans weren’t the only ones blind-sided, as the New York Times reported:
“A chastened Mr. Mnuchin left the room, in what one witness described as a state of shell shock. Mick Mulvaney, the president’s fiscally conservative budget director, told Republican lawmakers later that he would do his best to cope with the new reality that his boss was dealing with the opposition.
“And Mr. McConnell, who is barely on speaking terms with the president, quietly seethed, according to two people familiar with the situation. He breezed past other lawmakers and staff members in purse-lipped silence when he returned to the Capitol.”
In terms of the substance of the deal, Trump blew up GOP hopes of postponing future debt limit votes until after the 2018 midterms, instead keeping must-pass debt limit and appropriations votes on the table for mid-December, when GOP congressional leaders hoped to be focused on tax cuts. And by agreeing to tie it all to Harvey relief and recovery funds, Trump made it almost impossible for the GOP to do anything other than to grudgingly accept it.
The key question is whether Trump was just behaving impulsively, or if instead he is punishing the GOP for failing to get more done this year, and/or for failing to make his own priorities (e.g., border wall funding) their own. One informed source, Joel Pollack of Breitbart News, certainly read it the latter way:
“By working with Democrats, Trump can bypass the Republican leadership, GOP moderates, and personal foes like Sens. John McCain (R-AZ). However, it also means that he can cobble deals together between liberal Republicans and the Democrat minority, leaving conservatives out in the cold.
“The only way to stop him is for Republicans to unite. By showing he can deal with Pelosi and Schumer, Trump may have found the one way of making them do so.”
If this is indeed Trump’s idea of a bid for GOP unity, Democrats can only hope he keeps doing it.