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Trump makes a debt ceiling deal with Democrats, complicating work for Republicans

September 6, 2017 at 6:40 PM EDT
President Trump has sided with Democrats in a deal to tie $7.9 billion in Hurricane Harvey relief to funding the government and raising the debt ceiling. The deal complicates relations with Republicans, who wanted a longer-term fix to the debt ceiling. John Yang unpacks the proposal and what it means for the agenda awaiting Congress with Erica Werner of the Associated Press.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: By siding with Democrats today on the debt ceiling, President Trump has again complicated an already packed legislative agenda for Republican leaders in Congress.

John Yang brings us up to speed.

JOHN YANG: Congress got right down to business this morning, overwhelmingly approving a $7.9 billion first round of Hurricane Harvey relief, with only three votes against it.

REP. RODNEY FRELINGHUYSEN, R-N.J.: As one of the nation’s greatest natural disasters continues to unfold before our eyes, this Congress must ensure that our federal government is able to meet the short- and long-term needs of disaster victims.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have a lot to discuss.

JOHN YANG: But the path forward for Harvey aid may have been complicated by a deal President Trump made at the White House with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. Mr. Trump agreed to their proposal to tie the relief funds to funding the government and increasing the nation’s borrowing limit to avoid default until December 15.

But that could create a fiscal showdown just before Christmas and increase the Democrats’ leverage. Flying to North Dakota aboard Air Force One, Mr. Trump praised the agreement.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We essentially came to a deal, and I think the deal will be very, very good. We had a very, very cordial and professional meeting. So, we all very much agree.

JOHN YANG: Not everybody. Officials said objections came from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. They wanted a longer-term fix on the debt ceiling, through next year’s midterm elections.

An hour before the Oval Office meeting, Ryan had flatly rejected the Democrats’ idea.

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis., Speaker of the House: I think that’s ridiculous and disgraceful that they want to play politics with the debt ceiling at this moment, when we have fellow citizens in need, to respond to these hurricanes, so that we do not strand them.

JOHN YANG: Afterward, McConnell pointedly excluded himself from the agreement.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky., Majority Leader: The president and the Senate and House Democratic leadership agreed to a three-month continuing resolution and a debt ceiling into December.

JOHN YANG: It threatens a revolt from conservative Republicans. Even moderate Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska tweeted: “The Pelosi-Schumer-Trump deal is bad.”

Meanwhile, a Senate committee began bipartisan hearings on another issue that divides Republicans.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER, R-Tenn.: This hearing is about taking one small step, a small step on a big issue which has been locked in partisan stalemate for seven years: health insurance.

JOHN YANG: This afternoon, in North Dakota, Mr. Trump addressed another item he wants Congress to tackle: taxes.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I had a great bipartisan meeting with Democrat and Republican leaders in Congress, and I’m committed to working with both parties to deliver for our wonderful, wonderful citizens.

JOHN YANG: Mr. Trump reached across the aisle on taxes, taking Democratic North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp along on Air Force One.

But after this morning, it may be his own party he has to worry about.

We take a look at the political road ahead on Capitol Hill with Erica Werner, the congressional correspondent for the Associated Press, who joins us from the Capitol.

Erica, welcome back.

ERICA WERNER, Associated Press: Thank you.

JOHN YANG: What are you hearing from Republicans up there about what happened at the White House this morning?

ERICA WERNER: Well, it’s just amazement.

I mean, they got completely rolled by the president of their own party, and were almost speechless in the aftermath. Paul Ryan, in fact, literally was speechless. There was no statement from him whatsoever.

Mitch McConnell, as the audio you were playing earlier indicated, making clear, just admitting outright that Trump had sided with the Democrats on this. So, it’s certainly not the outcome they wanted or expected from this meeting. And then the next thing that happens is that Trump flies Heidi Heitkamp, who is a Democratic senator in a vulnerable reelection race, to North Dakota with him.

So, Democrats are getting everything they could ask for from this president today, and Republicans are getting nothing.

JOHN YANG: So when they add the debt ceiling and the short-term funding, the continuing resolution, to the Harvey aid in the Senate, and it goes back to the House, what’s going to happen there?

ERICA WERNER: Well, I think that despite, again, the complaints that we’re hearing from conservatives, all the Democrats are on board.

And Paul Ryan, you know, is on this deal, much as he may not like it. So, the expectation is that it will pass.

JOHN YANG: Does this complicate things for the Republicans moving forward on other issues?

ERICA WERNER: Well, definitely.

I mean, it’s just curious, because one of the explanations coming out of the White House for why they cut this deal is that they wanted to clear the decks for tax reform, so that the next period of time can be devoted to that number one agenda item for the president.

But there is going to be so much ill will coming out of this deal among Republicans, and then this looming deadline, which is now such a huge thing in December, it makes tax reform all the harder. So, that logic doesn’t really compute for a lot of Republicans up here.

JOHN YANG: Erica Werner on Capitol Hill on a month, an interesting month that just got a little more interesting.

ERICA WERNER: Very.

JOHN YANG: Thanks a lot.

ERICA WERNER: Thank you.

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