Blog No. 155. Trump and the Democrats (and a brief au revoir)

The deal that Trump suddenly struck with Democratic leaders Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Nancy Pelosi is at once promising and perilous. It is promising in that it avoided, at least for the time being, the twin disasters of a government default (failure to increase the debt ceiling) and a government shutdown (failure to approve a budget or Continuing Resolution). It is perilous because of those words “at least for the time being.” Matters have been put off until December, but the price to be paid for any agreement at that time is unknown and unknowable. Suffice it to say that prospects for a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and a generally jolly holiday season seem very much at risk.

There should be no doubt that the threats of a government default and/or shutdown were quite real. Some responsibility for that situation lay with the White House and some with Republican leadership in Congress, but a major source of the problem lay with the usual suspects— hard-line conservatives in the House and Senate. If there were any question on that score, it should be erased by the letter released on Thursday by the Republican Study Committee opposing the agreement reached by Trump and Democratic leaders and reluctantly endorsed by Republican leaders of the House and Senate. As reported in Politico, the letter noted that “clean” increases to the debt ceiling (that is, without spending “reforms”) had drawn very limited Republican support in the past. The letter went on to enumerate a list of proposals that needed to be accepted to secure conservatives’ approval of increasing the debt ceiling. Some of the proposals may have merit on their own terms, but none are practical or appropriate conditions of a debt ceiling increase.

Trump’s decision to cooperate with Democrats was not entirely unforseeable or a bad idea in principle. Blog No. 134, suggested the possibility of “triangulation” between Trump and moderates of both parties in Congress:

In this case, Rescue and Repair will mean looking for solutions with the participation of Democrats and “moderate” Republicans—the latter defined for this purpose as everyone one except the Freedom Caucus and its ideological bedfellows in the Senate. Put another way, what the situation calls for is a revival of Bill Clinton’s strategy of “triangulation” wherein he sought to work with and between the more moderate members of both parties in Congress. That strategy was not uniformly successful, but among other things, it produced welfare reform, the signal accomplishment of Clinton’s administration, and also secured his re-election. Adopting such a strategy might seem to be an about face for Trump (whose first instinct is always to blame others for his misfortunes) but then, consistency has never been a hobgoblin of the Trumpian mind, so perhaps it is possible.

A strategy of triangulation has not yet been implemented in the case of health care, but the bipartisan legislation being pushed by Senator Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray in the Senate Health Committee (a partial form of Rescue and Repair) may provide such an opportunity. In the meantime, Trump has wooed Democrats with a remarkable retreat on the subject of DACA. On Thursday, Trump telephoned Senator Schumer and Representative Pelosi to emphasize his interest in working on a bipartisan basis. Not surprisingly, the subject of DACA came up and, as reported by the New York Times:

Ms. Pelosi took the opportunity to ask Mr. Trump to send out a message on Twitter emphasizing that the 800,000 immigrants enrolled in a program that he canceled this week can keep their protection from deportation and work permits over the next six months as it phases out. The president, who has called on Congress to pass legislation that would renew the program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, agreed to do so.

Mr. Trump told reporters after the calls that the deal may signal a new era of bipartisanship. “I think we will have a different relationship than we’ve been watching over the last number of years. I hope so,” he said. “I think that’s a great thing for our country. And 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.”

Trump does not always live up to his promises, but this time he did

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump

For all of those (DACA) that are concerned about your status during the 6 month period, you have nothing to worry about – No action!

That Tweet, and Trump’s call for a legislative renewal of DACA, cannot have sat well in the stomachs of his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, and others in the nativist wing of the Republican Party. The harsh rhetoric of Sessions’ statement announcing the rescission of the DACA policy betrayed none of the love for the Dreamers that Trump has proclaimed. For example, Sessions asserted that the DACA program had “denied jobs to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens.” Sessions placed great emphasis on the claim that the DACA program conflicted with statutory authority and acknowledged grudgingly that Congress could authorize the program. Unlike Trump, however, Sessions showed not the slightest enthusiasm for any such thing. Sessions explained that the Department of Homeland Security would administer a wind-down process that “will enable DHS to conduct an orderly change and fulfill the desire of this administration to create a time period for Congress to act—should it so choose.” There is no doubt that Sessions’ statement genuinely reflected his own strongly nativist instincts—and those of many conservatives in Congress as well as Trump’s base in the electorate. How those instincts will be squared with the “New” Trump remains to be seen.

If Trump intends to pursue a strategy of triangulation with Democrats, he will need far sharper negotiating skills than he has shown thus far. One of the more curious aspects of his startling agreement with Schumer and Pelosi, is that he appears not to have sought, let alone extracted, a single concession from them. Is that the “Art of the Deal’ about which we have heard so much? Trump must also be careful not to neglect the third leg of the three-legged stool–Republican moderates, or at least the Republican leadership of McConnell and Ryan. The manner of Trump’s sudden rapprochement with Schumer and Pelosi may or may not have been spontaneous, but it could hardly have been executed in a manner more callous and bruising to his Republican allies. If Trump is to succeed with any of the substantive elements of his agenda, such as tax reform and infrastructure, he will need both the skill and the loyalty of McConnell and Ryan. He would do well to try to earn it.

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We will soon depart on another vacation trip and I am relieved not to have to worry about the debt ceiling and the budget during the next few weeks. I hope that the damage from Irma and her siblings is manageable, and that the President avoids starting a war with North Korea, but I leave those matters in the hands of the readers. I will hope for good news to comment on in early October.

One thought on “Blog No. 155. Trump and the Democrats (and a brief au revoir)

  • Yesterday and today were Trump’s best days so far. But it’s hard to take his professed love for DACA immigrants and alleged wish for bipartisanship seriously.

    It seems more likely that he just wanted to stick it to Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan for their alleged shortcomings in failing to obtain repeal of Obamacare, etc.

    Trump’s Cabinet members certainly do not fit the progressive mold — on taxes or anything else. And Trump himself has shown that he has no intention of supporting progressive tax, immigration or infrastructure legislation. (For example, he claims that the way to help middle and low income people is to slash corporate tax rates and eliminate the inheritance tax on wealthy estates.)

    Some incremental improvement in healthcare legislation and codification of DACA may be possible. But that is probably all we can hope for with this president and Congress.

    It seems that Trump is now trying to curry favor with top Democrats to save his presidency from abject failure, if not impeachment. I wouldn’t put it past him.

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