President Trump's decision on Wednesday to side with the Democratic leaders advocating a short-term increase in the nation's debt limit rankled Republicans in Congress and ripped open old wounds with conservatives who opposed him during the primaries.
Many Republican lawmakers and aides expressed a sense of shock and feelings of frustration on Wednesday with Trump's sudden overture to the Democrats. Some pointed to the decision as proof that the president has little personal commitment to the fiscal conservatism he spouted on the campaign trail. This in turn raised questions about how effectively the White House can marshal support for its tax reform plan from the same GOP members whose wishes Trump ignored in the debt ceiling fight.
Just hours after House Speaker Paul Ryan called a three-month extension of the debt limit "unworkable," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi claimed victory coming out of a meeting in the Oval Office with congressional leaders, Trump and senior administration staff.
Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin had pushed Trump during the meeting to consider a longer debt ceiling increase, one that lasted up to 18 months or, as a compromise, at least six months. But Trump ignored their suggestions in favor of a package that some Republicans said would give an advantage to Democrats who hope to secure unconditional legislative protections for people covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Trump moved to rescind this week.
"This is beyond ridiculous. The best Trump could get was Dec. 15th? What a total clown show," said a senior GOP aide shortly after details of the plan emerged.
The deal Trump struck with Democrats, which McConnell reluctantly agreed to back, will tie billions of dollars in relief funding for Hurricane Harvey to the three-month debt ceiling increase and to a continuing resolution that will keep the government open until December. The move delayed a difficult legislative battle that would have consumed the month of September ahead of several hard deadlines, giving lawmakers time to address other items -- such as tax reform and immigration -- that might have otherwise fallen to the wayside.
A senior House GOP aide described the way the debt decision unfolded Wednesday as "a disgrace."
"Members are super pissed, and many who backed [Sen. Ted] Cruz and railed against Trump as not conservative are pulling the 'I told you so' routine," the aide said, referring to the conservative Texan who unsuccessfully challenged Trump for the GOP nomination in 2016. "This whole episode the last 36 hours is a disgrace."
White House legislative director Marc Short told reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday that Trump pursued the three-month Harvey package in order to "clear the decks in September" for tax legislation, which became a top priority for the administration after Republicans failed to pass healthcare reform earlier this year.
"I think it puts pressure on all of us to get tax reform done before December," Short said.
But Trump has spent weeks picking fights with GOP members he has deemed insufficiently committed to his agenda. And his eager deal-making with Democrats could further test his already strained relationships with congressional Republicans ahead of several crucial policy debates.
"President Trump is absolutely transactional, not relational, so as a business guy, everything he does is a transaction," said Boyd Matheson, president of the Sutherland Institute and former chief of staff to Republican Sen. Mike Lee. "So President Trump doesn't come with the deep-seated Republican versus Democratic ideology, nor does he bring all the emotion and the relationships that come with that."
"He may have an agreement with Chuck Schumer today, and he may be tweeting mean things about him tomorrow morning," Matheson added.
Conservatives in Congress, however, had already balked at Trump's plan to link Harvey relief funding to the debt ceiling for ideological reasons, even before the White House unveiled a truncated timeline for the extension.
"Our members almost universally oppose tying the two together," said an aide to the conservative House Freedom Caucus.
Some conservative lawmakers had spent days cautioning against the idea of coupling hurricane recovery money and the debt limit hike because doing so would prevent any efforts to force spending cuts or even broader reforms when the debt ceiling came up for discussion, because most members would find it difficult or impossible to vote against anything that contained Harvey relief funding.
And other Republicans questioned how the addition of the stopgap spending bill to the mix would affect immigration talks and tax reform, since Trump's move to wind down DACA and his increasingly aggressive tax reform push have placed pressure on Congress to come up with solutions in both areas.
Trump's decision to put off the spending fight until December all but guaranteed the White House would not secure funding for the border wall in the immediate future. It was a sharp departure from the president's previous threat to force a government shutdown at the end of September if lawmakers refused to pay for construction of the wall, a stance made untenable by the urgency of Hurricane Harvey's destruction.
A Republican operative close to the White House said Trump's moves this week were designed to take both Republicans and Democrats by surprise.
"Trump knows that he cannot get the border wall funded even with a government shutdown, so he pivots to repealing DACA to show the base he's doing something proactive about immigration," the operative said. "The next day, he then triangulates Republicans to show that he's not the bad guy and he can get deals done with Democrats to show progress and to throw the left off base. So Republicans and Democrats are completely out of their comfort zone. The Freedom Caucus will feel a tremendous amount of pressure to come to a deal faster or else Trump may pass them by if he can."
David M. Drucker contributed to this report.