Trump’s deal with Democrats bewilders his biggest fans — House conservatives – Washington Post
The House’s conservative rabble-rousers thought American voters had given them the most powerful ally imaginable in their war against the Republican establishment. And for months — as President Trump delivered daily frustrations to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, they had little reason for doubt.
On Wednesday, however, Trump sent the hard right a new message: Your enemy’s enemy is not necessarily your friend.
The president’s quick embrace of a legislative strategy for a must-pass disaster relief bill proposed by the top Democratic leaders, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), set the stage for a grand negotiation later this year that will hand leverage to the minority and frustrate the majority’s governing ambitions.
If history is any guide, that likely includes any hopes conservatives had for ambitious spending cutbacks and a thorough recalibration of the federal government’s size and scope.
Outwardly, key conservative leaders blamed Ryan (Wis.) and McConnell (Ky.) for the concessions — extending the federal debt ceiling for only three months, allowing Democrats to use the threat of a government default to extract policy concessions on a spending bill that also must pass in mid-December.
“Let’s be clear,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, told reporters Wednesday. “There was not a conservative option on the debt ceiling that was offered to the president.”
But others openly wrestled with the reality that Trump — a political outsider most of them had eagerly embraced — would ultimately prove to be an unreliable partner in battles for their most important goals.
“Dealmaking to what end?” asked Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), the rare Freedom Caucuser who routinely criticizes Trump. “Does it advance or pull away from the bias that you believe in terms of what direction the government ought to go? I think all of us as taxpayers need to be very skeptical of deals for the sake of deals.”
For the Freedom Caucus, Wednesday’s betrayal came weeks after their most important White House ally, chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, left the Trump administration and rekindled his rear-guard war on the establishment. Trump’s decision to side with Democrats fit with a right-wing narrative that his administration is under internal siege from “globalist” advisers with a moderate agenda.
Meadows met Monday with Bannon to plot the months ahead, and on Wednesday night, he warned Ryan in a private meeting that a failure to enact conservative priorities could imperil his speakership.
That message came after Freedom Caucus members fumed publicly throughout the day about how leaders had set them up for failure. “The point is, we should have had a plan a long time ago,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
There is no sign that Trump’s Wednesday concession marks a broader legislative pivot. But the legislative reality for the GOP’s hard right is brutal: Every Democratic entreaty the president accepts erodes the conservative bloc’s power, which is rooted in its ability to push Republican-only initiatives — like this year’s health-care effort and the coming tax overhaul effort — further to the right.
For a broader group of conservatives, Trump’s decision to side with Pelosi and Schumer over Republican leaders came simply as a shock that forced them to come to terms with the man in whom they had invested their political fortunes.
Trump’s rejection of the long-term provision Ryan and McConnell wanted mirrored their own displeasure with the prospect of swallowing a lengthy debt-ceiling increase attached not to a package of spending reforms but instead to $7.85 billion charged to the national credit card. But he did so by empowering Democrats, not conservatives, in the service of projecting bipartisanship rather than principle.
“It’s unsettling,” said Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. “I know it is for us as a conference; I can only imagine what it is for leadership.”
Walker recalled the stop-and-go-and-stop-again effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act earlier this year, when GOP leaders drew up a legislative strategy only to see it crumpled by internecine fights between Republicans — fights that Trump only seemed to encourage.
“You would think you would chart a course, and then all of a sudden this group — won’t name names — was meeting with the administration working this out, and then you have to come back and start from scratch,” he said. “Eventually, you have to learn to play by the rules that make you the most effective.”
Both Freedom Caucus and Republican Study Committee members appear poised to send a message later this week by voting against the debt-and-spending deal Trump agreed to — showing they are willing not only to defy Trump, but also to risk political attacks for opposing relief for hurricane victims. If they deny the bill a majority of Republican votes, they will only add to the embarrassment for party leaders already reeling at the pact between Trump and Democrats.
Meadows said it did not matter that the bill had Trump’s imprimatur — “I think that it is more of a principle call than a personality call,” he said. But Walker said Trump should take heed of the reaction from his most ardent Republican fans.
“I think ultimately we are on the same team, and I think middle America still likes what they see in this president, knowing that he just shakes the foundation of this place to its core,” he said. “But you still have to create a path … and you also have to have the execution to get there.”
Powered by WPeMatico