The Post reports: “Wednesday’s Oval Office meeting with congressional leaders was the first substantial policy meeting to which the president has welcomed Democrats. And they left that meeting with everything on their wish-list checked off by the president.” President Trump struck a deal with Democrats on a 3-month debt ceiling and government funding deal that included Harvey relief funding, thereby depriving hard-line Republicans of the opportunity to force further budget cuts, at least for now. Trump apparently also reached a “gentleman’s agreement” to discuss permanently eliminating the need to vote on the debt-ceiling increases. And if that wasn’t enough, he seemed entirely ready for a DACA fix.
Democrats might well be nervously eyeing one another. Is this a trick? No, it is evidence of what they have said all along. Trump is a raging narcissist with no policy preferences who is motivated by personal grudges, vengeance and the rapacious need for affirmation. The “lying press” and the “fake media” he rails against suddenly became sources of personal affirmation when his deal with the Democrats was reported. Politico reported, “[I]n calls with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi Thursday morning, Trump raved about the positive news coverage it had received, according to people familiar with the calls, and he seemed very pleased with his decision.”
Plainly, Trump hates House and Senate Republicans who didn’t deliver his big win on Obamacare repeal and are insufficiently obsequious — no matter how much House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) grovels, it’s never enough. He doesn’t like being the “bad guy” (hurting “dreamers”) and made a slew of extravagant promises (e.g. health care coverage for everyone) during the campaign that Republicans are not about to help him achieve.
So what do Democrats do?
First, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Pocket the three-month deal and get ready for December.
Second, flattery will get them very, very far. Mr. President, after such a statesman-like move in September, surely you’ll want to leave your legacy — no more debt ceiling fights!
Third, don’t be shy. Trump agreed to tweet reassurance to the dreamers (which is of no legal consequence). Schumer and Pelosi would be wise to tell Trump directly (and frequently) what Schumer said on the floor Thursday. Schumer recounted: “I spoke once again, to the president this morning – he called and said he wanted to help in the Dream Act, and there are many ways to help, but here are two: One, persuade other Republican senators to cosponsor the bill introduced by senators Durbin and Graham. We now have four Republican cosponsors, we need more. There are many here on the floor, in the Senate, who seem to be sympathetic to the Dream Act. Maybe the president can help get them to co-sponsor?” Schumer continued, “And second, to urge my friend, the Republican Leader from Kentucky and the Speaker of the House, Mr. Ryan, to put the Dream Act on the floor ASAP.”
By reminding Trump that he “loves” the dreamers and will be lauded for the DACA fix, Democrats may well get the help they need.
Fourth, Democratic leaders can now go to the Republicans with bigger items (e.g. infrastructure reform) with the threat of going to Trump for a better deal. Playing one side (congressional Republicans) off against the Republican president would be, well, unique but possibly productive.
Fifth, Trump might sign the bipartisan Obamacare fixes if presented as a “rescue” or “overhaul” of Obamacare in which Trump gets the credit. Once again, Trump can be seen as beneficent, get good press and still be able to claim he did what his predecessor could not, namely fix the exchanges. (They should resist the urge to get him on board with single-payer health care, as some have wryly suggested on the premise that Trump will sign anything put in front of him that is a “win” applauded by the press.)
At some point Trump will no doubt turn on a dime, get mad at Schumer or Pelosi for something or other and insist on something they find intolerable. The good news is that Republicans have shown themselves unable to agree among themselves on conservative agenda items. With hard-line Republicans battling moderate Republicans, and Trump’s erratic proclamations, Obamacare repeal failed; the same may result may occur on the right’s tax plan. (Its delinquent unveiling suggests they are having a tough time coming up with something that doesn’t break the bank — and violate reconciliation rules. By betting on Republicans to kill the GOP far-right agenda and making deals to get some of their own priorities, Schumer and Pelosi could go into the 2018 midterms with no wall, Obamacare intact (or improved), protection for dreamers and no tax cut for the rich. That would make 2018 even weirder than 2017.