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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press President Donald Trump meets with, from left, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other Congressional leaders in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, in Washington.

Thursday, September 07, 2017 1:00 am

Trump favors Democrats in deal to raise debt limit

ERICA WERNER | Associated Press

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump briskly overruled congressional Republicans and his own Treasury secretary Wednesday to cut a deal with Democrats to keep the government operating and raise America's debt limit. The immediate goal was ensuring money for hurricane relief, but in the process the president brazenly rolled his own party's leaders.

In deal-making mode, Trump sided with the Democratic leaders – “Chuck and Nancy,” as he amiably referred later to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi – as they pushed for the three-month deal.

In doing so, the president brushed aside the urgings of GOP leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for a much longer extension to the debt limit. Republicans want that longer allowance to avoid having to take another vote on the politically toxic issue before the 2018 congressional elections.

The session painted a vivid portrait of discord at the highest ranks of the Republican Party. After an angry August that Trump spent lobbing attacks at fellow Republicans, specifically targeting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for the failure of health care legislation, the president wasted little time once Congress came back this week in demonstrating his disdain for the GOP House and Senate leaders charged with shepherding his agenda into law.

At first, in Wednesday's Oval Office meeting, the Republicans lobbied for an 18-month debt ceiling extension, then 12 months and then six, but Trump waved them off. As Mnuchin continued to press an economic argument in favor of a longer term, Trump tired of it and cut him off mid-sentence.

After the meeting, Trump boarded a plane to North Dakota with Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in an effort to garner bipartisan support for tax legislation that Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are crafting on a purely partisan basis. That continued the day of bizarre disconnects between the president and the leaders of his party.

Trump called Heitkamp to the stage at his Dakota event and praised her as a “good woman.” She will be running for re-election against a Republican in November 2018.

Aboard Air Force One, Trump told reporters, “We had a very good meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.” He didn't mention Republicans McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, who also had been present. “We agreed to a three-month extension on debt ceiling, which they consider to be sacred, very important.”

“I think the deal will be very good,” Trump added.

Barely an hour earlier, Ryan had slammed the Democrats' demand for a three-month extension as “ridiculous and disgraceful.” He issued no public statement on the final deal.

McConnell, in his own reserved fashion, did not sugar-coat what happened when he addressed reporters.

“In the meeting down at the White House, as I indicated, the president agreed with Sen. Schumer and Congresswoman Pelosi to do a three-month CR and a debt ceiling into December, and that's what I will be offering based on the president's decision,” McConnell said.

“CR” refers to a continuing resolution, which will extend existing government funding levels into mid-December, when the prospect of an enormous new round of deal-making now looms.

Asked whether he was surprised to see the president side with Democrats against his own party leadership, McConnell responded: “Look, the president can speak for himself, but his feeling was we needed to come together, not create a picture of divisiveness at a time of genuine national crisis, and that was the rationale.”

And yet, Trump's deal came just a day after he announced he would be dismantling immigration protections for younger immigrants, a program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. He gave Congress six months to come up with a solution. That announcement had infuriated Democrats and was not cheered by many Republicans, either, since among other things it gives them a politically explosive issue to resolve ahead of the midterm elections.

Trump's moves appeared to show little regard for the imperatives of his party leaders. And after the GOP's failure to pass long-promised legislation to repeal and replace “Obamacare,” the events renewed questions about whether the party can summon the focus and unity to advance tax legislation, its next big goal.