Trump's wheeling and dealing with Democrats is a 'warning' to the GOP, congressman says
Many in Washington and around the country support President Donald Trump's recent efforts to work with Democrats as he begins what could be a new phase of his presidency.
As some Republicans express concerns that Trump's move to the political middle could leave them out in the cold, a number of his supporters are pointing to the recent immigration and debt ceiling deals with Democrats as a wake-up call for a Republican majority that has defeated itself on a number of key issues.
"This should be a good warning to Republicans that we're going to need to get some of these things across the finish line," Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Penn.) said of the recent deals.
"The president came to Washington to get things done. If he's unable to get it done with Republicans, then he's going to have to work with the Democrats," he continued. That will mean Republicans could get a raw deal.
Barletta, an early and staunch support of Trump, doesn't fault the president for reaching across the aisle but turned the table on his own party which has so far failed to secure a legislative victory on health care, tax reform and immigration.
Among the most ardent Trump supporters, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) views the latest talks with Democrats as a threat to the president's base.
"There's only one thing that cracks President Trump's base and that's if he cracks on immigration," King said.
Those were the reports from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) after their Wednesday night dinner, later disputed by the president and Republican leaders.
In a joint statement, Pelosi and Schumer said the president "agreed to enshrine the protection of DACA" the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and protect the Dreamers from deportation. The Democrats added that they were open to a broad package of additional border security measures, but the U.S.-Mexico border wall was off the table.
During the campaign, Trump disparaged DACA as amnesty and was unwavering on building the wall and tough immigration enforcement. Rep. King insisted that with Trump's meetings with Democrats, he has forgotten the agenda that shored up so many of his early supporters. "I want to remind him of his campaign promises."
As Trump's first eight months in office have demonstrated, there is a big difference between campaigning and governing.
Trump told the American people he would get his agenda passed quickly, with the GOP majority delivering a win on health care, and bipartisan support for tax reform, infrastructure spending and a host of other items.
None of that has been as easy as he anticipated, in part because the Republican-led Congress has pursued the agenda in strictly partisan terms.
Health care failed to garner the simple majority needed to pass and it was crafted in a way to exclude Democrats from participating. Up until Tuesday's White House meeting where Trump convened a group of three Democrats and three Republican senators early this week, it looked like tax reform was on the same partisan collision course.
"I'm encouraged that the White House is looking at options for us to govern in a way that breaks through the partisan fever," said Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus. She about a dozen of her Republican and Democratic colleagues were invited to the White House on Wednesday to try to open up more common ground on major policy issues.
"I think strategically there's an opening now," McSally said, "I'm actually encouraged by this shift."
That shift came at the end of July, when the Senate killed the health care repeal and replace bill, and with it, the belief that Republicans could legislate without at least some buy-in from the minority party. July, when the Senate killed the health care repeal and replace bill, and with it, the belief that Republicans could legislate without at least some buy-in from the minority party.
Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a long-time supporter of Trump, described the recent bipartisan overtures as "phase two" of Donald Trump's presidency.
"Phase two is getting things done," he said.
Collins explained that Trump's opening to Democrats was the president saying, "I'm going to get things done in a bipartisan way. And I think America is applauding that. I certainly do."
According to recent polls, the overwhelming majority of Americans are frustrated with the partisanship and say the divisions have gotten worse under Donald Trump.
A recent Rasmussen poll found that 66 percent of likely voters believe it is good for the country if Trump works with Democrats. Only 19 percent of those polled say Trump should continue to rely on congressional Republicans to get his agenda through, compared to 29 percent polled in April.
Many Democrats have also been encouraged by Trump's willingness to seek their support. They were gratified when Trump agreed to Schumer and Pelosi's debt ceiling and disaster relief deal, and many see the DACA talks as another big opportunity.
Based on their own words, only a small number of Republicans actually oppose DACA and believe Dreamers should be deported. Similarly, there is a large contingent of Democrats who support strengthening border security -- just not with a wall.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee insisted she is "anxious" to "help the president with border security," and in the recent months has introduced legislation to hire more border patrol agents and improve surveillance at the border.
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) attended a White House meeting on Wednesday with other congressmen. He believes there is a lot of common ground, especially on the issue of protecting Dreamers, but he said Democrats have to go into negotiations with "eyes wide open."
Schumer and Pelosi had a few opportunities to work with White House, but Trump has repeatedly demonstrated that he can easily turn on the lawmakers he once worked with.
"Trump changes his mind from morning to midmorning and then in the afternoon. That's just the new reality around here," Welch said. "We've got to adapt to the terrain." While adapting to the reality of the administration, the congressmen did note that Trump's inconsistency is "very destabilizing, fundamentally."
There is no doubt that Trump's talks with Democrats hit some Republicans in a sore spot.
King raised his concerns that the compromise on immigration will "crack his base."
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a tweet that the president "undercut" his committee's work on DACA.
Even House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has had to grin and bear a lot of criticism since Trump took office, reminded the president that he cannot deal out the Republican leadership.
Insisting that the talks with Democrats were "not negotiations," Ryan stated, "I think the president understands that he's going to have to work with the congressional majority to get any kind of legislative solution."
Similarly, with the president clearly supporting a solution that shows "great heart" to DACA recipients, Republicans are going to have to work with the president. "
Some of the most right-wing conservatives may never be on board with Trump cutting deals with Democrats, but Rep. Collins said that ultimately has more to do with their own supporters, not the president.
"They're going to continue to be ultra-conservative ... because of their base in their districts," he said. "I don't think [Trump] is giving away Republican power, I think he's opening a door."
For a president with a small majority or even a divided government, expanding the base of lawmakers he is able to make deals with is critical. It has also worked in the past to great effect, even under some of the worst conditions.
In 1998, the most unlikely allies, President Bill Clinton and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were able to work together and hammer out the first balanced budget in nearly thirty years, despite their bitter political differences.
Of course, later that year Gingrich would help secure the House vote to impeach Clinton. Perhaps proving the point that while some issues are irreconcilable, it is possible to find middle ground.