President Donald Trump on Thursday reignited his feud with GOP leaders, taking fresh potshots at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. But underneath the bluster, there’s a recognition that Congress and the White House still need to work together to avoid fiscal disaster in September.
Trump is working to convene a meeting with McConnell and Ryan as well as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi soon after the August recess ends, according to congressional sources. Avoiding a federal default and a government shutdown will likely be chief among the topics of discussion.
It could be an awkward meeting.
Trump blamed McConnell and Ryan in a pair of tweets Thursday for creating a “mess” over the debt ceiling, contending they rejected his call to attach an increase in the nation’s borrowing limit to a bipartisan veterans bill.
“I requested that Mitch M & Paul R tie the Debt Ceiling legislation into the popular V.A. Bill (which just passed) for easy approval,” Trump wrote Thursday morning. “They didn’t do it so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy-now a mess!”
The tweets underscore the absence of a strategy heading into a delicate month of negotiations that could rock the U.S. economy as well as Trump’s refusal to call a truce in the GOP’s growing civil war.
The White House had said Wednesday that Trump and McConnell will meet following the August recess to discuss the fall agenda, though it did not mention Democratic leaders. A White House spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a question about a bipartisan meeting, but press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump intends to work closely with congressional leaders on shared policy goals.
Trump’s tweet aside, passing a debt limit increase was never going to be easy.
The White House favors a “clean” debt ceiling hike. But conservatives in the House and Senate are loath to back any measure that increases the nation’s borrowing authority without corresponding spending cuts and reforms. Connecting a “clean” debt ceiling hike to a veterans bill would have put them in an untenable position of either voting against their fiscal priorities or against the bipartisan VA measure.
Though the notion of tying a debt ceiling increase to the veterans measure was always likely to be doomed, one GOP source said the Senate had been preparing to support it, only to be stymied when House leaders opted to adjourn for the August recess.
Ryan said on CNBC on Thursday that the House had looked at linking the debt ceiling to the VA bill but the deadline came up and “we weren’t able to do that then.” Recess was also fast approaching, and House GOP leaders didn’t want to keep Republicans in town for a toxic vote and then send them home feeling demoralized and angry.
Two House Republican sources also note that leaders in their chamber were worried that some GOP lawmakers would fume at being squeezed into supporting veterans and a debt increase they hated — or voting against those who served the country and sticking to their fiscally conservative principals.
At one point in early August, according to the same sources, the White House suggested the House, which left a week before the Senate, return for a debt ceiling vote. House GOP leaders rejected the idea outright because they knew it would upset their members to return for despised legislation.
Still, Ryan predicted Thursday that Congress would pass a debt ceiling increase and said there are “a lot of options” about how to structure the legislation.
Ryan also said he expects the House to pass bills to keep the government open about a week after Congress returns. But he said the Senate’s heavy workload in September — which, unlike the House agenda, includes confirmation of judges, subcabinet officials and ambassadors — will likely require a short-term funding measure to keep the government open until December.
Trump, though, has signaled that he’s open to playing hardball for border wall funding, raising the prospect of a shutdown next month if he doesn’t sign the short-term funding extension.
Trump is increasingly furious at Senate Republicans for failing to repeal Obamacare and not doing more to curb the Russia investigations. He vented to Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) over the phone, is seeking a primary challenger to Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and has expressed frustration at Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). He’s also drawn criticism from senators for his handling of the violent white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Trump has particularly tangled with McConnell, shouting at him in a phone call earlier this month, while the Senate majority leader later questioned Trump’s political acumen.
After hitting McConnell and Ryan over the debt ceiling, Trump added another broadside in his morning tweetstorm.
“The only problem I have with Mitch McConnell is that, after hearing Repeal & Replace for 7 years, he failed!” Trump tweeted. “That should NEVER have happened!”
Trump’s attack on the Republican leaders came just a day after the White House and McConnell’s office issued conciliatory statements intended to tamp down talk of a breach and after the two men had not spoken for two weeks. McConnell’s statement also listed preventing a government default among his and Trump’s shared goals.
And even as Trump showed no inclination to lighten up on his fellow Republicans, GOP lawmakers on Thursday appeared to try to lower the temperature around their squabble with the president.
Asked about Trump’s debt-ceiling swipe, Ryan told CNBC, “I don’t really take it as going after me.” McConnell also praised Trump at a public appearance in Kentucky on Thursday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a frequent Trump critic, said during an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that Trump is right to criticize Congress and encouraged lawmakers to take tough votes.
Even Sen. Jeff Flake told Fox News he was “glad” Trump visited Arizona this week to tour the border, despite Trump’s repeated attacks on him.
Still, Flake also poked at Trump in a separate interview, with CNN reporting Flake said Trump was “inviting” a 2020 challenger by how he is governing.
Elana Schor and Rachael Bade contributed to this report.
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