Both during the presidential campaign and during his first few months in office, President Trump said that if necessary he would cut deals with the Democrats if the Republicans couldn’t get things done. Last week, he backed up that promise.
Trump’s deal with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi on the debt ceiling and hurricane relief took everyone by surprise, but it shouldn’t have. The failure of Republicans in Congress, particularly on the repeal of Obamacare, drove Trump into Pelosi and Schumer’s arms – literally, based on a picture from the Oval Office of Trump and Schumer that was widely disseminated.
Conservative Republicans who expressed shock and dismay at the president’s deal with the Democrats demonstrate they do not yet grasp the new dynamic that is at play with Donald J. Trump in the White House. Trump is not a conservative Republican. He’s not even a Republican, although that may be his latest party registration.
Trump gave Team GOP a chance, especially with Obamacare repeal. He was willing to play the “us versus them” game as long as it produced results. But so far throughout 2017, major legislative wins have been non-existent. Time may not be up, but Trump’s quick deal with Schumer and Pelosi sent a warning shot across the GOP bow – you better start delivering.
It should be no surprise that the author of “The Art of the Deal” is a dealmaker. Donald Trump measures success by the number of deals he makes. He is not an ideologue. He is not a rightwing conservative, a leftwing Democrat or even a moderate independent. He makes deals.
The GOP could have taken full advantage. Republicans had first dibs on working with the new president, and could have gained his signature on any number of GOP-sponsored bills. But so far Congress has provided him with nothing but hopes and dreams, with little of substance to show for it.
On Obamacare repeal, Trump made it clear that he didn’t even really care what was in the repeal bill. He would sign anything. Just put something on his desk for his signature. Even under those conditions, the Republicans could not oblige.
So last week, as soon as Schumer and Pelosi floated a deal that Trump knew would gain the votes necessary to pass both chambers, he jumped on it, and gleefully signed it faster than a state jackpot winner endorsing a lottery check.
If Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan or any other congressional Republicans needed a wakeup call, Trump held the alarm clock up to their ears with the volume turned to high.
Even the national media was caught off guard. Some outlets stayed true to their Trump-hating creed and developed one of two narratives, that the president got hoodwinked by Pelosi and Schumer, or that he betrayed his own party, whatever seemed most negative.
But others grudgingly reported it the way they would have if Barack Obama or Bill Clinton were still president – the deal might signal a new era of bipartisan cooperation.
The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 80-17 and sailed through the House with a tally of 316-90. Most Republicans supported the bill, but every nay vote came from the GOP, including our own Brad Wenstrup, congressman from the 2nd District. Wenstrup was one of five Ohio GOP congressmen to oppose the bill. The others were Jim Renacci, Jim Jordan, Mike Turner and Warren Davidson.
(They all made sure to point out that they voted in favor of a “clean” hurricane relief bill earlier in the week, but it was one of those bills that gets floated with no chance of actual passage, but serves their purpose of giving cover for those who want to make sure they are on record voting for something popular like hurricane relief.)
Wenstrup issued a statement after voting against the real bill by saying he could not support a package tying hurricane relief to raising the debt ceiling limit “without any serious conversation” about offsetting the spending or providing relief to the armed forces.
On the other hand, Ohio U.S. Sen. Rob Portman voted in favor of the Trump-Schumer-Pelosi deal. I couldn’t find a statement from Portman after his vote, although earlier he said that passing the bill was necessary to keep FEMA from running out of money by the end of the week.
In fairness, Wenstrup has supported Trump about 94 percent of the time, according to the FiveThirtyEight website, including repeal of Obamacare. Portman has supported the president about 92 percent of the time, although he voted against one of the major Obamacare repeal bills.
Trump’s deal with the Democrats made one thing clear – he wants action.
America wasn’t great in years past because white people ruled, or because minorities were oppressed, which are the things Trump’s critics imply were meant by the president’s famous campaign slogan. America was great because Republicans and Democrats used to work together to get things done for the good of the country.
Until Republicans start demonstrating a level of competence so far not in evidence, the betting here is that last week’s deal with the Dems is the first of many to come, because Trump is not a Republican or a Democrat, or a liberal or a conservative. He’s a disrupter and a dealmaker, which is what is needed to make America great again.
Gary Abernathy is publisher and editor of The Times-Gazette. Reach him at (937) 393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.