It was supposed to be a call to unity.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney joined a closed-door GOP Conference meeting Friday to try to rally wary Republicans around a debt ceiling bill they hated.
But the huddle quickly went off the rails when Rep. Tim Walberg stood up to say President Donald Trump needed to play more with the team. The Michigan Republican said he was all for bipartisanship, but he argued that Trump shouldn’t have blindsided the conference when he struck a deal with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, undercutting GOP leadership.
Walberg was the first of more than a dozen lawmakers who echoed that same sentiment, according to sources in the room. Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker of North Carolina asked Mnuchin why he even bothered meeting with conservatives over the summer if he was just going to ignore their input entirely. Another lawmaker said Trump “pissed off a whole lot of people in here” when he went against a joint leadership-White House plan to advocate for a longer debt limit increase that took the issue off the table until after the midterm elections.
And the room booed when Mulvaney and Mnuchin refused to commit to spending cuts during the next debt ceiling debate — and then asked for their vote on the current legislation.
“[Mnuchin’s] last words, and I quote, were ‘Vote for the debt ceiling for me,’” Walker said as he left the meeting. “You could hear the murmurs in the room there. There was some hissing and I don’t know if there was booing but there were some groans.”
Republicans are putting Trump on notice: Don’t do this to us again.
Ultimately, 133 House Republicans, more than half of the GOP Conference, voted for Trump’s agreement with Democrats when the House passed the legislation Friday morning, 316-90. But most did so out of obligation to help the victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma — not for anyone in the Trump administration.
“There’s a lot of disappointment in the decision that the president made, and the way our leadership was treated. That’s a sore spot,” said former House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.). “However, this bill — we have no choice but to raise the debt ceiling, and we have no choice but to help those people in desperate need in Texas and other places. … But it’s not a happy camp.”
Most Republicans seethed as they exited the conference meeting and headed to the floor. They said they were shell-shocked that they were being scolded into raising the nation’s borrowing limit without spending cuts by a GOP administration — especially by Mnuchin, a longtime Democrat, and Mulvaney, once among the House’s most ardent critics of raising the debt ceiling without conservative reforms.
“If it wasn’t so serious it kind of would have been funny,” said Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Penn.)
“When you have a Democratic donor Treasury secretary saying we as a Republican Congress need to vote for this and an OMB director I don’t believe ever supported a clean debt ceiling … say we need to do this, it’s kind of ‘Where am I right now?” he said.
Lawmakers gave a particular earful to Mulvaney, who they remember adamantly rejecting previous debt ceiling increases and pushing to tie disaster aid to spending cuts, most notably after Hurricane Sandy hit New York and New Jersey in 2012.
“He would’ve been in the audience doing most of the shouting,” said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) “I remember him during Sandy. I don’t forget.”
Rep. Darrell Issa cracked that Mulvaney, a former Freedom Caucus conservative, should find 43 vacancies in the administration for Freedom Caucus members, suggesting they might abandon their principles and back what Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) has been calling a “crap-sandwich” if he gave them a job.
Lawmakers — and Mulvaney himself — laughed, knowing full well it was a pointed jab at the budget director conservatives say sold out his ideology when he joined the Trump administration.
Most of it was not lighthearted, however.
The room booed when Mulvaney refused Texas GOP Rep. Joe Barton’s request that he commit to reducing spending as part of the next debt ceiling hike. Lawmakers also repeatedly voiced frustration that the administration refused to commit to tackling conservative priorities in December, when a confluence of fiscal fights — including a long-term government spending agreement — are expected.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, downplayed the tension in the room, suggesting differences were philosophical, not personal: Many lawmakers were eager to vote for relief for Hurricane Harvey victims, but they were also torn over lifting the nation’s borrowing limit.
But one thing was clear, he said. Democrats won the week.
“I think that they would be accurate in suggesting that Democrats had a win on this because there are no structural reforms to the debt ceiling that was included with the debt ceiling vote,” Meadows said. “Indeed, it’s the first time I can recall we’re increasing the debt ceiling without something conservative being attached to it.”
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