Frustrated with his own party’s leaders in Congress, President Donald Trump talked up his suddenly cozier relationship with Democrats on Thursday, raising the prospect of new deals on government spending and even posting one of his tweets at their behest.
“I think that’s a great thing for our country,” Trump said, describing his new and “different relationship” with Democrats.
In public, Republican leaders glossed over the striking turn of events, but lawmakers in both parties were privately puzzling over how Trump’s approach might affect the fate of the party’s agenda. And some conservatives openly criticized the deal-making, ideologically flexible president who defied GOP leaders in striking an agreement Wednesday to keep the government operating and raise the nation’s debt limit for just three months.
Democrats, privately leery about how long this new Trump might last, were upbeat in public.
As for Trump, after a series of legislative failures he has fumed to associates for months about Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. On Thursday, he predicted a “much stronger coming together” of the two parties and pronounced himself ready to work with Democrats.
“I think that’s what the people of the United States want to see: They want to see some dialogue, they want to see coming together to an extent at least,” he told reporters.
Trump, a longtime Democrat who lived most of his life in deep blue New York City, has never closely adhered to Republican orthodoxy and has routinely shown a willingness to shift positions to seal deals. But his embrace of Democrats in recent days has been startling.
He overruled Republican leaders and his own treasury secretary on a debt ceiling agreement. He courted a Democratic senator with a flight to her home state on Air Force One. He offered reassurances on Thursday to young immigrants at the request of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, tweeting that those covered by the federal program he has promised to end “have nothing to worry about” over the next six months.
Trump also signaled a willingness to permanently do away with debt ceiling votes and move ahead on a stand-alone measure on the young immigrants, two suggestions opposed by most Republicans.
Trump’s unhappiness with GOP leaders has been building for months.
He has harshly criticized both McConnell and Ryan for failing to pass legislation to repeal the Obama health care law and for not doing more to shield him from the ongoing Russia investigations.
Then, wasting no time after Congress returned from summer break this week, Trump waved off Republicans who lobbied during a Wednesday Oval Office meeting for an 18-month debt ceiling extension, then 12 months and then six. When Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin continued to press an economic argument in favor of a longer-term deal, Trump cut him off mid-sentence.
Instead, Trump sided with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and Pelosi—”Chuck and Nancy,” as he referred to them later. That deal was underscored by a photo taken through the window of the Oval Office showing an animated Schumer pointing his finger in Trump’s face as the president smiled with his hands on Schumer’s arms.
Schumer, said Pelosi, “could speak New York to the president.”
Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, asked if the president was annoyed with the GOP leadership, said, “He probably is.”
“And believe me, as a Republican, so am I. As a citizen, I am too. I was promised that they would have repealed and replaced Obamacare by now,” Mulvaney told Fox Business Network.
House Speaker Ryan played down the tensions, saying the deal that Trump cut with Democrats on spending, the debt and Hurricane Harvey made sense as the nation deals with two major storms.
Ryan said the president didn’t want to have “some partisan fight in the middle of the response.”
While Ryan grimaced through his answers, Democrat Pelosi beamed as she told reporters that Trump had been acting at her request when he tweeted assurances Thursday that young immigrants won’t be targeted for deportation during the six-month phase-out period for a program that shields them from deportation. The administration announced this week that it is rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), though giving Congress six months to address the issue.
Trump also spoke by phone Thursday with McConnell, Ryan and Schumer. And Schumer met with him again, this time about possible federal involvement in a rail link between New York and New Jersey.
“The president is committed to working across the aisle and doing what is needed to best serve the American people,” said spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Trump later dined with Ryan at the White House, discussing the fall legislative agenda. The White House said after the dinner that Trump looked forward to “working together with Congress on bipartisan solutions.”
Trump told associates he was delighted with the positive news coverage of his foray into bipartisanship and boasted of the good press in calls to Pelosi and Schumer. But some Republicans were anything but pleased.
“Yesterday we saw Washington’s swamp continue to rise: Chuck Schumer wrote the art of the steal by taking hurricane relief hostage to guarantee a December showdown that favors Democratic spending priorities,” said Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska.
Republican Rep. Bill Flores of Texas suggested that Trump would come to regret working with the Democratic leaders.
“There may be a feeling of euphoria today, but then there is always the hangover that comes the next day,” he said.
And the No. 2 Senate GOP leader, John Cornyn of Texas, poured cold water on any idea that Trump’s split with his party this week would affect his campaigning in 2018.
“He can count,” Cornyn said. “And he’d much rather have (Republican Arizona Sen.) Jeff Flake, despite their disagreements, than he would have a Democrat and have us be in the minority.”