“Chuck and Nancy.”
The way President Donald Trump talked about the meeting with congressional leadership Wednesday, it would be easy to forget Republicans were even there.
It’s too early to tell whether Trump’s willingness to strike a deal with Democrats to fund the government in the short-term was a sign of a new strategy to work across the aisle, or simply an impulsive decision from a president already frustrated with his own party.
But his move did not happen in a vacuum. Republicans went into September anxious about how the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue would get along after the president spent August bashing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Earlier in the summer, Trump spoke openly about how frustrated he was with House Speaker Paul Ryan after the health care debacle.
Now, with the president actively courting a Senate Democrat on Air Force One and talking on a first-name basis with congressional Democratic leaders such as Chuck Schumer of New York and Nancy Pelosi of California about future plans to work with Democrats to protect the so-called Dreamers, there are concerns among Republicans that they may be losing their spot in line when it comes to negotiations with the White House.
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Back in November and through January, this was Republicans’ worst nightmare. The famed deal-maker, they feared, would be so eager to strike a deal for the sake of a deal — any deal — that his policies would end up all over the map. To their comfort though, Trump mostly kept to a strict, conservative line as president.
Now, his willingness to shake a Democratic hand to secure a quick win could mean the power centers in Washington are shifting.
Republicans have a right to feel a bit betrayed and frustrated. But they should remember the reason they needed Democratic votes for these spending bills in the first place was because of the hardliners in their own party who threatened to vote against anything that did not include major spending cuts.
This limited package to keep the government’s lights on and credit intact not even until the holidays means Congress will have to fight all these fights all over again in December. Then, they will be nearing the deadline for those Dreamers, or the undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, and the White House will be wanting a win on changes to the tax code. In short, everything will be on the table and it will be a doozy.
Still, it is stretch for Democrats to claim some big victory this week. In essence, they managed to delay a showdown for now and keep some bargaining chips in their pocket. That’s it. Nothing new was passed.
They did not achieve something on their stated to-do list. Taking a victory lap for keeping the government functioning is like gifting themselves a participation trophy.
They cannot be accused of running up against or playing politics with the debt-ceiling deadline, for now. Members may feel like they will have more leverage in December, but who really knows? Anything could happen by then.
Democrats did not get a vote on protections for Dreamers nor a change in federal agency funding levels. The deal reached was to pass what’s referred to as continuing resolution, meaning the government will be funded at current levels.
That means that Democrats will be fighting against additional cuts in only three months, keeping all departments on unsure footing.
September was a unique month, when Republicans needed Democrats to keep the wheels turning. Arguably, all Democrats did was say, “OK.”
By letting them have a say at all, Trump has left them emboldened. But they can check with their friends across the aisle before deciding whether this cooperation will last.