Trump Stuns GOP by Dealing With Democrats on Debt, Harvey Aid

However, Mr. Trump’s decision to align with Democrats over the objections of GOP leaders and a member of his cabinet is likely to inflame tensions between the president and his fellow Republicans. Just hours earlier, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) had called Democrats’ proposal to combine Harvey aid and a three-month debt limit increase “ridiculous” and “unworkable.”

Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said it was “terrible” for Mr. Trump to undercut his fellow Republicans, particularly when their partisan adversaries were witnesses to it. “The president should not do that,” Mr. Lott, a Republican, said. “It is embarrassing to Republican leadership and it shows a split.”

.. During the Oval Office meeting,

  • Mr. Ryan,
  • Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.),
  • House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) and
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin

all pushed for a longer suspension of the debt limit increase, according to people briefed on the meeting, with Mr. Trump cutting off Mr. Mnuchin at one point.

Rep. Kevin Cramer (R., N.D.), a longtime Trump ally on Capitol Hill, told reporters on Air Force One Wednesday evening that he “gasped” when he heard about the deal. “In fact, I sought clarification when the president told us before the flight,” Mr. Cramer said. “When we received that confirmation, I said, ‘wow.’ I was at a dinner last night where that was not in anybody’s dream.”
.. Republicans initially advocated for an 18-month extension, pushing the next vote on the debt limit until after next year’s midterm elections. When Democratic leaders, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, rejected that, the GOP leaders suggested a six-month extension.

With congressional leaders at a standstill, they planned to agree to disagree, according to a person briefed on the meeting. Instead, the president accepted the deal from Democrats and later singled out only those two leaders in announcing the deal. “We had a very good meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer,” he said.

.. But privately, Senate Republican aides said the deal registered as a rebuke, following a stormy summer

.. Mr. Trump picked a sensitive subject on which to take his stand Wednesday. Republicans have made addressing debt and deficits a cornerstone of their governing philosophy.

Former House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) was vilified by conservatives for his budget and debt limit deals with President Barack Obama, a Democrat, which helped build pressure leading to Mr. Boehner’s resignation in September 2015.

The prospect of having to vote again in three months to raise the borrowing limit—and to do so less than a year before the 2018 elections, and at a time when Democrats will seek to extract concessions on must-pass items like a new spending bill—represented a major concession, some GOP lawmakers said. “The Pelosi-Schumer-Trump deal is bad,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) said in a statement.

..  “We very, very poorly deal with our finances and we’re heading ourselves into a fiscal crisis,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) told reporters Wednesday.

.. Mr. Sessions said he strongly preferred a longer time line for the debt limit and said the next vote in December would be harder. “He is new to the negotiation,” Mr. Sessions said of the president. “Experience teaches you that it’s not this vote that’s the hardest. The next one is.”

.. Democrats had said Wednesday that their offer was designed in part to maintain their leverage in other negotiations over issues including health care and Mr. Trump’s decision Tuesday to end after six months an Obama-era program that shields undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children.

Double-Crossing the Aisle

President Trump stunned Republicans on Wednesday when he sided with Democrats on a proposal to attach aid for Hurricane Harvey victims to measures to keep the government funded and its borrowing limit suspended until mid-December. Mr. Trump’s decision to ignore pleas from GOP congressional leaders upended the partisan alliances that have long set the boundaries of congressional policy-making—and is likely to inflame tensions with his fellow Republicans. It also raises the question of whether he will now turn to Democrats to reach deals on tax reform and immigration.