As a presidential deal-maker, Donald Trump is, in Texas parlance, all hat and no cattle. It’s a big reason that, aside from disaster relief, not much is likely to get done this month or this year.
To the shock of fellow Republicans, Trump gave Democrats all they wanted to get a temporary extension of the debt ceiling and government funding and the first installment of huge assistance for hurricane victims. His claim that this augurs well for “much stronger coming together” isn’t serious.
Trump cut this small deal to punish House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he blames for this year’s dismal legislative record, while simultaneously bragging he has gotten more done than any than any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. The next day Trump gloated about the GOP leaders’ discomfort and the media reviews.
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To many congressional Republicans, this was another indication that the president doesn’t care about the party, and that his word is transactional, as are his principles. It wasn’t too long ago that Trump praised House Republicans, at a White House ceremony, for passing an Obamacare replacement. He had little idea what was in it, and when the blowback came, he assailed the bill as “mean.”
A sworn enemy of personal responsibility, Trump blames Ryan for passing a health care bill, which he’d embraced, that couldn’t get a majority in the other chamber. He blames McConnell for delivering, with little help from the White House, only 49 of 52 Republican senators. He also faulted them for not linking an increase in the debt limit with a popular veterans’ bill. Whatever your view of the Kentucky senator, he’ll forget more about legislative strategy than Trump, the faux deal-maker, ever will know.
Some small deals might be made. And, conceivably, a bigger one would eliminate the anachronistic debt-ceiling measure altogether. But that will be tough to achieve, and polarized politics make more substantive bipartisan accords almost impossible.
Republicans, while feeling some heat from the Trump base, know he can’t be trusted and will be reluctant to go out on a limb, which the president is just as likely to chop off. Democrats already are devising ads against lawmakers who voted for the Obamacare replacement, citing how “mean” the president said it was.
Then there’s the Trump-inspired chatter about more deals with Democrats: a massive infrastructure measure and a compromise on liberalized immigration, coupled with Trump’s demand to build a wall along the Mexican border. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer thinks he knows how to manipulate this president.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. (Photo: Alexander)