You might call it “The Schumer Test.” It goes something like this: If you’re a Republican and Chuck Schumer is happy, then it’s likely not a good day.
The Democratic leader in the Senate was indeed beaming Wednesday, after President Trump took a deal he and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi offered to fund the government through mid-December. It’s a trifecta of an agreement delaying big September showdowns on a government shutdown and on raising the debt ceiling, while also providing the first big installment of federal help for the Hurricane Harvey relief effort.
Then, while en route to North Dakota for a speech on his call for tax cuts, it was an elated and self-satisfied Republican president, who casually referred to the leaders of the Democratic opposition as “Chuck and Nancy,” while chatting up reporters in the press cabin of Air Force One.
“Chuck and Nancy.”
Cue the GOP jitters.
It didn’t take long.
On that same presidential trip (to Bismark, N.D., and back to Washington), North Dakota Republican congressman Kevin Cramer was asked about the deal.
“I will tell you that I gasped when I heard it,” he told reporters on Air Force One on the way back from Trump’s North Dakota speech.
Cramer said such a reaction was common among his fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill. “I will tell you,” he said, “it’s not surprising to me that people are concerned, particularly about the short-term extension of the debt ceiling.”
The GOP leadership had been pushing for an 18-month deal on the debt ceiling, looking to send a message of stability, but also to push the issue beyond next year’s mid-term elections.
Cramer said that a day before no one could have imagined such a deal between the White House and minority Democrats. Cramer did also offer a conciliatory nod.
“For me personally, I trust the president’s negotiating ability,” he said. “I think he felt this was the best deal he could get.”
But one last dose of caution: “It’s going to be a tough sell in our conference, there is no question about it.”
Both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have signed on to the deal, albeit reluctantly. But there was no keeping a lid on the dissent within their party.
Rep. Mark Walker wrote a letter on behalf of the the leaders of the Republican Study Committee voicing their opposition to the deal.
The deal does nothing, he wrote, but continue “the status quo or even worsens the trajectory of spending” — and it “seems to lack the votes to pass with Republican votes.”
There are 20 leaders on the steering committee of the RSC, which has a membership of the majority GOP members — 150.
Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska was succinct in a tweet that used fewer than a third of the 140 characters allowed in that format, simply calling the deal “bad.”
And here were a couple headlines from publications and editorial pages Republicans read:
Forbes magazine: “Did Trump Just Become a Democrat?”
The Wall Street Journal: “The Pelosi-Schumer-Trump Congress”
The Journal added the sub-head: “The Republican gang that can’t even shoot at each other straight,” while noting that it’s become “increasingly hard to tell” that the American people elected a Republican government last November.
The frustration with the White House was evident as well at a morning after breakfast for the Freedom Caucus. These are the most conservative of the Republican members of congress, many with deep roots in the Tea Party movement.
Speaking to Bloomberg TV, which sponsored the breakfast, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina said he was surprised by the news, adding with more than a little understatement, “It’s not something that any of us advocated for.”
Particularly galling for Meadows and the others in the Freedom Caucus, is a sense that Democrats got the best of the deal.
“We’re being dictated terms and conditions by Democrats, while they are in the minority,” said Freedom Caucus member Warren Davidson, a Republican from Ohio.
Meadows said conservatives he’s talked to are making their feelings very clear. “The outcry from the grassroots is undeniably disappointment,” he said.
But he also says conservatives hadn’t put their own clear vision of a deal on the table first: “We shouldn’t be surprised.”
Meadows added, “You gotta have a plan, in order to execute it, and I was not aware of any substantial conversations on the debt ceiling, other than ‘We gotta raise it.’”
He predicted this agreement would put the president in a poor negotiating position come December, when the deal expires.
“I’ve been around long enough to know that nothing good ever happens in December in Washington, D.C.,” he said, “except the lighting of the Christmas tree.”