Why Is Trump Suddenly Allying Himself with the Democrats?

The president's latest deal has angered his own party, and left everyone confused.

by Harry Cheadle
Sep 7 2017, 7:22pm

On Wednesday, Democratic and Republican congressional leaders met with Donald Trump in the Oval Office to discuss the most pressing issues facing the government. Aid money needed to be allocated to communities devastated by Hurricane Harvey. The "debt ceiling" needed to be lifted in order for the country to pay what it owes. The federal government needed to be funded. Oh, and something had to be done about the 800,000 immigrants facing deportation in six months thanks to Trump's decision to strike down DACA.

Democrats want to tie the debt ceiling to other priorities in order to get Republicans to agree to concessions, including a potential codification of DACA—a program protecting kids brought to the US as children—into law. For that reason, Republicans were determined to pass a bill raising the debt ceiling for 18 months, which would let them avoid tough fights until after the 2018 midterm elections. Democrats were content to raise it for just three months. In the meeting, Republicans came down to 12 and then six months—before Trump decided to side with the Democrats, against the wishes of even his own treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin. Three months it is. (The plan is to also fund the government for three months with the same bill.)

It's a technical issue, but Trump's move sent shockwaves through DC and annoyed the hell out of conservatives inside and outside DC. "It doesn't help our leadership to try to hold us Republicans together on anything when they know the president will chop them off at the knees," one anonymous GOP lawmaker who's tight with Speaker Paul Ryan told Politico. White House sources told the Daily Beast Trump could have been trying to send a message to congressional Republicans that he was tired of them failing to advance their legislative agenda—though, with Trump, it's always dangerous to read too much into anything. "Part of me thinks [Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck] Schumer talked first, and it was like, 'OK, that sounds good,'" a Republican aide told the Beast.

At this point, interpreting Trump's actions is both a political parlor game and about as fruitful as wondering why the stars choose to shine. But whatever his rationale, the deal is widening the rift between the president and his nominal allies in Congress. On Thursday, Axios reported that leaders of the Republican Study Committee, a caucus of conservatives in the House, oppose the deal, which could mean it'll pass with more Democratic than Republican votes. Meanwhile, key players in the House Freedom Caucus are angry over the deal, and apparently blame congressional Republican leaders, not Trump, for it.

There are other signs Trump is breaking from the party of her allies. In a Wednesday rally in North Dakota, Trump praised Democratic senator Heidi Heitkamp. And Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi not only got Trump to tweet a reassuring message to immigrants threatened by the cancellation of DACA, but also said the president would sign legislation letting those immigrants stay.

Does that mean Trump will now govern less as an orthodox Republican, as he often has for the first half year of his term, and try to work with Democrats on issues like infrastructure and healthcare—and help the white working-class voters Trump claims to represent? Mayyyyyyybe. Ben Domenech, the publisher of the right-wing Federalist, thinks this "pivot," long rumored about a politician many DC insiders suspect has no real ideology, could be real.

But if Trump is actually trying to move leftward, the obvious risk is leaving his old base behind. Breitbart, the right-wing site run by Trump's defrocked consigliere Steve Bannon, greeted news of the deal with a photo of Trump and leaders from both parties under the headline: "Meet the Swamp."

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