Updated at 2:32 p.m. | President Donald Trump, embroiled in a simmering feud with his own Republican Party, instead essentially cut a deal Wednesday with Democratic leaders on a number of pressing issues.
Trump agreed to back a three-month debt-limit extension and three-month continuing resolution attached to a Hurricane Harvey relief package, one source with knowledge of the meeting told CQ Roll Call.
Trump rejected several GOP proposals on extending a borrowing limit deadline during a closed-door Oval Office meeting with the congressional leaders from both parties, said a Democratic source who was briefed on the meeting. The Republican president and Hill leaders ultimately agreed to back a three-month debt-limit extension and three-month continuing resolution attached to a Hurricane Harvey relief package, both sources said shortly before White House aides and Trump himself confirmed those details.
The catch: The president agreed to a plan proposed earlier in the day not by his own GOP leaders, but by Democrats. After weeks of attacking members of his own party, Trump appears to have escalated tensions with his fellow Republicans. Democratic votes likely will be necessary to push the coming massive legislation through both chambers, meaning Democratic leaders had ample leverage.
After the president agreed to the Democratic plan, a Democratic source who was briefed on the meeting said daughter and senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump suddenly entered the Oval Office.“The meeting careened off topic,” the Democratic source said. “Republican leaders were visibly annoyed by Ivanka’s presence.”
Trump himself confirmed each piece of the Democratic-leaning deal during a quick question-and-answer session with reporters on Air Force One.
Trump said he and congressional leaders agreed to the three-month extension of the debt ceiling and a three-month government spending bill. Those will be tacked onto a Hurricane Harvey relief bill, which he told reporters will be inflated by an unspecified amount to address the approaching Hurricane Irma.
“So we [will] have an extension, which will go out to December 15th. That will include the debt ceiling, that will include the CR, and it will include Harvey — the amount of money [is] to be determined … because everyone is in favor obviously of taking care of that situation,” Trump said of the apparent deal. “So we all very much agree.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he will be offering the agreement on funding the government and addressing the debt limit into December as an amendment to the House-passed emergency supplemental. McConnell, who pointedly noted Trump sided with Democratic leaders, also said he would be supporting the measure.
A different account
The Democratic source offered a different account, saying Republican and Democratic leaders entered with very different proposals. The GOP side first pitched an 18-month debt ceiling extension, then a six-month extension, this source said. After Trump and Democrats rejected a six-month extension before the president signed on to a three-month extension proposed earlier in the day by Democratic leaders.
Trump’s decision came as Speaker Paul D. Ryan, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, McConnell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin advocated for a longer-term debt ceiling increase, the Democratic source said.
The GOP leaders’ case for a longer debt limit increase — they had been internally discussing something into 2018 — is that it would provide more certainty to markets and prevent Democrats from using the shorter time frame to extract policy concessions.
Pelosi and Schumer in two separate joint statements Wednesday on the debt ceiling matter have referred to their interest in passing legislation to provide permanent legal status for children of undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship based on certain conditions.
“As Democratic leaders, we also made it clear that we strongly believe the DREAM Act must come to the floor and pass as soon as possible and we will not rest until we get this done,” the Democratic leaders said in a joint statement after the White House meeting.
Earlier Wednesday, Ryan said Trump was hesitant to allow Democrats to gain leverage on their policy demands via the other pressing matters facing Congress and the White House over the next few weeks and months.
Striking a melancholy tone about whether he and congressional leaders can tackle a daunting fall agenda that includes a possible debt default and a government shutdown in the midst of two federal recovery efforts, Trump told reporters hours earlier he hopes top officials can address each one in a “rational way.”
“We have many, many things that are on the plate,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office at the start of a meeting with the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate. “Hopefully, we can solve them in a rational way. And maybe we will be able to.”
The president at first signaled he would know by the time the meeting ended whether that is possible — but he quickly, as he often does, sounded a different tone.
“We probably know pretty much at the end of this meeting — or the meetings that we’ll be having over a short period of time,” Trump said. “Our country has a lot of great assets and we have some liabilities that we have to work out. So we’ll see if we can do that.”
The Oval Office meeting — which also included Vice President Mike Pence — marked the first time since Trump took office that he met with the “Big Four” at the same time. That group is composed of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wisconsin, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-New York.
As he begins to court Democrats for a still-unwritten tax overhaul bill for which he will again try to gin up public support during a speech later Wednesday in North Dakota, Trump thanked Pelosi and Schumer by name for coming to the White House.
At issue are a list of tricky issues, including raising the federal debt ceiling to avoid a federal default, pass a spending measure to avert a government shutdown, get a Hurricane Harvey relief emergency spending measure to the president’s desk, deal with a coming crisis as historically powerful Hurricane Irma approaches Florida, continue work toward a tax overhaul bill, and, after Tuesday, a six-month deadline to address 800,000 undocumented immigrants now without protections before the DACA program goes away.
Asked while flanked by the congressional leaders — Ryan and McConnell — who will ultimately decide whether to bring legislation addressing DACA recipients to floor votes whether he wants Congress to address the matter, Trump responded: “I certainly hope they do.”
On Tuesday morning, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Trump would end the Obama-era immigration program. The AG said the executive order creating the DACA program was unconstitutional because only Congress can make laws, alleging that is just what Obama did. Trump followed suit with a written statement soon after, arguing the same.
Yet, around 9 p.m. Tuesday, Trump complicated the situation — and contradicted himself and Sessions — by firing off a tweet saying if lawmakers fail to pass a Dreamers-addressing bill in six months, he will “revisit” the issue. Paradoxically, that seems to undermine his legal argument because if he issued a Dreamers-protecting order because Congress failed to pass a law to that end, he would be mimicking Obama’s move.
Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can't, I will revisit this issue!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2017
Before the leaders headed to the executive mansion, they floated proposals for dealing with some of those issues and clinically set down markers for how they want the fall legislative days to go.
First up were Schumer and Pelosi, who said they would offer this plan to the president: pair Harvey aid with a three-month suspension of the debt ceiling — and pass it through both chambers with a large number of Democratic votes.
“Democrats are prepared to offer our votes for the Harvey aid package, and a short-term debt limit increase of three months,” the duo said in a statement. “Given Republican difficulty in finding the votes for their plan, we believe this proposal offers a bipartisan path forward to ensure prompt delivery of Harvey aid as well as avoiding a default, while both sides work together to address government funding, DREAMers, and health care.”
Later, at the White House, the president did not rule out the Schumer-Pelosi idea — but he certainly did not endorse it.
“We’ll see,” he told reporters when asked if he could support attaching a three-month debt ceiling measure to a Hurricane Harvey relief bill.
McConnell was next up in the pre-meeting posturing, and used his opening floor remarks to say he sees “three critically important things before us that need be done very quickly.” On his list are passing a disaster relief bill “to allow us to rebuild from Harvey and prepare for future disasters like Irma, prevent a default so that those emergency resources can actually get to Americans who need them, and keep the government funded.”
Notably, McConnell said his priorities also are “the president’s immediate priorities,” adding “they are critically important to establishing certainty and stability as our country continues to recover from one record-setting storm and prepare for yet another.”
Ryan was the last leader to weigh in before heading down Pennsylvania Avenue, dismissing the Schumer-Pelosi proposal before they quartet stepped foot in the Oval Office.
Ryan accused Schumer and Pelosi of playing politics with the debt ceiling, calling their proposal to back a three month extension tied to Harvey relief “unworkable.”
“I think that’s a ridiculous idea. I hope that they don’t mean that. Let’s just think about this: We’ve got all this devastation in Texas,” Ryan told reporters. “We’ve got another unprecedented hurricane about to hit Florida. And they want to play politics with the debt ceiling?
“That will strand the aid that we need to bring to these victims of these storms that have occurred or are about to occur,” he said. “And then they also want to threaten default on our debt? I think that’s ridiculous and disgraceful that they want to play politics on the debt ceiling at this moment when we have fellow citizens in need.”
Rain fell steadily outside the White House as the Trump-“Big Four” meeting ended. The pitter-patter of raindrops could be heard on a hot mic at the stakeout where lawmakers and others sometimes speak with journalists after meeting with presidents.
But after Wednesday’s session, only the steady sound of late-summer precipitation was heard through those microphones. The leaders quietly slipped away via a side West Wing entrance, beyond the area to which reporters have access. Trump left the White House soon after for Big Sky Country and his second tax speech to rally support for a long-term goal while more immediate issues punted until December.
Niels Lesniewski, Lindsey McPherson and Rema Rahman contributed to this report.