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Republicans Worry Trump Is Falling Into The Arms Of 'Chuck And Nancy'

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and President Trump embrace in the Oval Office after a meeting at which Trump agreed with Democrats, casting aside Republicans.
Alex Wong
Getty Images
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and President Trump embrace in the Oval Office after a meeting at which Trump agreed with Democrats, casting aside Republicans.

Updated at 3:42 p.m. ET

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. The package passed 80-17 in the Senate on Thursday and is expected to pass the House on Friday.

After Wednesday's meeting, 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 Bismarck, N.D., and back to Washington), North Dakota Republican Rep.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 midterm elections.

Trump went even further on Thursday, appearing to side again with Schumer, expressing openness to eliminate the debt ceiling altogether.

"It could be discussed," Trump told reporters during a Cabinet meeting. "There are a lot of good reasons to do that."

Cramer said that a day before Trump struck the deal with Democrats, no one could have imagined such an agreement. Cramer, who was a guest of Trump's on Air Force One, did, however, 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 leaders of the Republican Study Committeevoicing their opposition to the deal.

The deal does nothing, he wrote, but continue "the status quo or even [worsen] 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 of 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 of headlines from publications and editorial pages Republicans read:

Forbesmagazine: "Did Trump Just Become a Democrat?"

The Wall Street Journal: "The Pelosi-Schumer-Trump Congress"

The Journal added a subhead: "The Republican gang that can't even shoot at each other straight," while noting that it has 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 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 has talked to are making their feelings very clear. "The outcry from the grass roots 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."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: September 7, 2017 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story misspelled Bismarck, N.D., as Bismark.
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.