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Trump Sided With The Democrats. Whaaaaat?

In this week’s politics chat, we dissect reports of a deal between President Trump and congressional Democrats. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


micah (Micah Cohen, politics editor): Welcome, everyone! We were actually going to skip this week’s politics chat, but then this happened (from The New York Times):

President Trump struck a deal with Democratic congressional leaders on Wednesday to increase the debt limit and finance the government until mid-December, blindsiding his own Republican allies as he reached across the aisle to resolve a major dispute for the first time since taking office.

So, on the surface, this seems really odd: Trump going along with a proposal from the Democratic leaders, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, that ran against the wishes of the Republican leaders, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.

Is it that odd? Is it significant? What do you all make of this?

(Clare is on a reporting trip, but filling in for her is our new Washington editor! Introducing Hilary!!! 🎈🍾🍾 🙏

hilary.krieger (Hilary Krieger, Washington editor): I don’t think there is “odd” in the Donald Trump presidency. But it is certainly atypical according to the normal rules of Washington party politics.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): I was just eating and am still trying to figure out what’s going on. #radicaltransparency

harry (Harry Enten, senior political writer): It’s odd given that Ryan said a deal like this was ridiculous as recently as Wednesday morning.

hilary.krieger: It’s clear that Trump did not reflect on his feud with McConnell and think, “What I need to do is rebuild relationships with GOP leaders in Congress.”

micah: Yeah, so … what’s the real significance of this deal politically?

hilary.krieger: In a rainbow and unicorns version of Washington, it could be the dawn of a new era of bipartisanship.

harry: I like unicorns. I own one. His name is Gary.

micah: Hilary …

natesilver: I suppose one could interpret it as the start of a — the start of a word that begins with P, ends with T and has IVO in the middle.

micah: Nate …

natesilver: Micah …

hilary.krieger: No, for realz, the White House could be realizing that there’s a lot of common ground to be made if they’re willing to rely on the votes of Democrats.

natesilver: It doesn’t mean a p***t toward a kinder, gentler, more disciplined Trump. That’s always kind of a bullshit storyline.

But it could be a p***t toward Trump seeing how far he can get by working with Democrats.

hilary.krieger: Toward one where he sees if his self-interest can be served by working with Democrats.

natesilver: Right.

micah: OK, but why make this deal if you’re Trump?

harry: Trump has generally done well in polling related to Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath, so why mess with that now? In a YouGov poll, for example, he earned a 55 percent approval rating for his response to Harvey.

natesilver: He’s up to 38.2 percent in our job approval tracker, which — while not good — does represent a gain of about a point from a week ago.

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): I’m in the “Trump did one weird thing and he does weird things all the time” camp.

micah: I’m with Perry.

perry: If he is now p***ting to the center or will be more willing to work with Democrats … that will be huge. But I don’t know that Wednesday’s deal is the first sign of that or just a random data point.

harry: But Trump reads polls like everyone else. And with his handling of Harvey getting decent marks and his approval rating having inched up, I don’t think he wanted to screw around with risking the Harvey relief bill failing by tying it to the debt ceiling fight.

natesilver: I’m not quite sure what your point is, Harry. How does gaining a point of approval rating change Trump’s calculus here?

perry: I’m firmly in the camp that if Trump really cared about polls, he would not have implemented a policy on Tuesday(!) that only about 15 percent of Americans support.

harry: My point here is simple: The Harvey relief bill is likely to be almost universally popular, so why not do it on its own? He doesn’t care what the GOP leadership cares about.

I’m not saying Trump does popular things; I’m saying there’s no reason for him not to go against the Republican leadership here.

perry: I see. Good point.

micah: Well, except being part of the same party. That’s usually the only reason anyone does anything in Washington.

hilary.krieger: He also could turn Harvey from being something that’s earning him points to something losing him points if his GOP is seen as holding up hurricane aid and shutting down the government at a time of crisis.

perry: Trump’s DACA tone has also been weirdly conciliatory. So I feel like we have two data points, not just one.

hilary.krieger: It could be a P***T, or it could be that today, Trump is trying to see what working with the Democrats gets him … for today.

natesilver: The thing is, a p***t toward working with Democrats isn’t really mutually exclusive with having a chaotic overall strategy.

perry: Does Trump p***t much or does the press often inaccurately claim that he is p***ting?

hilary.krieger: Latter.

micah: 100 percent the latter.

natesilver: Again, I think we should distinguish “this is the moment Trump became president!” fake p***ts from changes in political tactics.

Trying to work with Democrats doesn’t require any more maturity out of Trump, for example.

hilary.krieger: Agree, Nate, but it could work politically for him, and he could try it again on DACA.

micah: I think you are reading way too much into this.

He just rescinded DACA!

harry: But now he can claim he helped to pass DACA.

It’s called strategy, Micah.

natesilver: Today’s move could actually make it harder for Trump to get what he wants on DACA.

hilary.krieger: How so?

perry: He has annoyed Republicans. The House Freedom Caucus is furious. They were not going to vote for DACA anyway, but they have to allow Ryan to let it come to the floor.

natesilver: Yeah, now you’ll Ryan and McConnell roll over and lose credibility with the conservative rank and file if they go along with the Trump-Democrats deal. And on DACA, they were already in a predicament of potentially bringing legislation to the floor when a majority of Republican members were likely to be opposed to it. So they have more incentive to cater to the conservatives on DACA and show some spine to Trump.

micah: OK, here’s my read of this: Trump doesn’t have the same regard for his party or for “party unity” as your average president, so he’s willing to buck his own party’s congressional leadership under certain circumstances.

But!

  1. Those circumstances will likely only rarely come together.
  2. Even if Trump has decided to try to work with Democrats more, Democrats won’t play ball 99 percent of the time. Harvey played a big role here, I think, for Trump as well as Democrats.
  3. Congressional Republicans will likely be pissed, as you all said, so Trump will probably have to do stuff to mollify them. So we’ll see a “reverse p***t” tomorrow, most likely.

hilary.krieger: Is “reverse p***t” an oxymoron? Or is it a circle?

harry: Here’s a thought. Trump does like the feeling of crowds loving him. I wonder how much his meeting the victims of Harvey and them embracing him played a role. The question is how the Bannon wing and “Fox & Friends” wing reacts to this. I think Trump will be paying attention to some of that here.

perry: I endorse all three points. I would say Trump is now no longer threatening a government shutdown over his border wall idea. So everything is a political improvement from that.

micah: Yah, I mean, we always thought that his “I’ll shut down the government if there’s no border wall funding” threat was mostly hollow, but he’s moved rhetorically.

hilary.krieger: It helps him save face on that, if nothing else, since he was already making signs of having to back down on that.

micah: jinx

natesilver: I’m not sure I’d endorse point No. 3. I don’t think Trump feels as though congressional Republicans have all that much leverage over him.

micah: Disagree!

How else to explain: his endorsement of Luther Strange or his going along with the GOP health care bills.

perry: I don’t know what Trump thinks. But the reality is that the Freedom Caucus has juice. It pushed out a House speaker, helped kill the first draft of Obamacare repeal, etc. Trump pisses them off at his own peril.

natesilver: Maybe he’s just mashing buttons.

micah: Maybe.

natesilver: I just don’t think he has any loyalty to the GOP, so he won’t perceive it as being very costly to him to alienate McConnell and Ryan. I also think he probably feels as though McConnell and Ryan haven’t delivered anything for him anyway.

micah: OK, we agree on that.

hilary.krieger: Or that he has all the power as president anyway. If they really turn against him now, he’ll get to test that.

micah: To Perry’s point, though, what happens if the Freedom Caucus gets real mad at Trump?

harry: Well they stopped the health care bill in March, as Perry noted.

perry: The Freedom Caucus is now promising to make December bloody.

That’s the Freedom Caucus spokesperson.

hilary.krieger: It could make Trump’s life easier. He might start seeing the caucus as enemies and no longer try to placate them. Then he can make alliances with people who are willing to compromise and do stuff.

natesilver: Can someone explain to me why the Democrats wanted to push things to December? What does that get them?

It looks like Sasse is being sassy, BTW.

micah: !

harry: Yeah, I’m sure Sasse being against this will change Trump’s mind.

perry: Lol.

The Dems, I think, assume that Republicans will need their votes for a continuing resolution to fund the government and to raise the debt ceiling. With those now coming up in December, they can make a DREAM Act push then.

Every Freedom Caucus “no” on the debt ceiling and government funding increases Democratic leverage.

I doubt this will lead to the GOP caving on the DREAM Act without some other border concessions, but that’s the play, I think.

hilary.krieger: If Democrats were also looking to use the debt ceiling as leverage on other issues, doing so with Harvey aid in the mix makes them look bad. Safer for them to use it as a lever in December.

natesilver: What if they shut down the government just before Christmas and there’s no Santa Tracker!

harry: I think Hilary is right. Also, where is the Hanukkah Harry tracker?

micah: So Democrats would use the debt ceiling/government funding to get a DACA-like law?

Is that the prize they’re focused on?

perry: That’s how they could use that leverage, yes. The same coalition that would back the continuing resolution/debt ceiling would be for DACA: Lindsey Graham-style Republicans and Democrats.

I’m not predicting that, but it would make the most sense as a strategy.

hilary.krieger: I’m not sure “sense” and “strategy” are allowed in the same sentence these days!

micah: OK, we gotta start to wrap. Final thoughts?

perry: Trump did something odd today in breaking with GOP leaders on all this fiscal stuff. I do not think this will be a harbinger of things to come. Trump does weird things. He was for, against and for DACA in a 15-hour span on Tuesday. I have no idea if he has embarked on a new strategy of working with Democrats or will be mocking Pelosi and Schumer by tomorrow morning.

hilary.krieger: What Perry said.

That could lead to him doing this again if he thinks it works, as a matter of happenstance rather than strategy.

micah: I’ll answer on Nate’s behalf: P***T!!!

harry: Trump tends to revert to form. That’s what I would bet on regardless of any individual action he takes.

natesilver: But what does reversion to form mean on this issue? He’s never had a particularly good relationship with McConnell and Ryan. This will make it worse. It’ll probably be a little while before we learn what the consequences of that are. But in my view, it’s liable to make them less likely to roll over for him in December.

harry: I’m essentially saying that even if you think Trump did something unusual on Wednesday, expect that he’ll just be his usual self from then on. Trump can do a strange or unexpected thing from time to time. But he is who he is.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

Harry Enten is a senior political writer and analyst for FiveThirtyEight.

Perry Bacon Jr. is a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Hilary Krieger is FiveThirtyEight’s Washington editor.

Micah Cohen is the politics editor.

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