Republican resistance to a deal to raise the national borrowing limit — struck by President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders — is straining GOP unity just as Congress enters the most politically treacherous stretch of the legislative calendar.
The leaders of the Republican Study Committee, an alliance of more than 150 conservative House members, panned the deal Thursday, even as Speaker Paul Ryan — who initially opposed it as well — praised Trump for seeking a bipartisan approach. The measure is expected to be attached to a bill that would send billions of dollars worth of disaster aid to Texas for its recovery from Hurricane Harvey.
“While some have advocated for a ‘clean’ debt limit increase, this would simply increase the borrowing authority of the government while irresponsibly ignoring the urgency of reforms,” RSC chairman Mark Walker (R-N.C.) wrote in a letter to Ryan. “Worse yet is attaching the debt limit to legislation that continues the status quo or even worsens the trajectory on spending, such as the deal announced yesterday by the President and Congressional Leadership.”
Walker told reporters he expects at least 100 of the group’s 150 members to oppose the deal, including two members of the Texas delegation, Reps. Jeb Hensarling and Joe Barton.
The opposition of the RSC’s steering committee underscores the difficult position in which Trump placed Republicans, most of whom have long opposed increasing the nation’s borrowing authority without corresponding spending reforms or cuts. For Ryan, it raises the uncomfortable prospect that he’ll push forward with legislation that a majority of the 240 House Republicans oppose, a move that could deepen fractures among GOP lawmakers.
Already, signs of a divided Republican Party emerged in the Senate where the measure passed 80-17. All of the votes against the bill came from Republicans.
Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) opposed the deal Trump struck with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday. But the Republican leaders were overruled by Trump during a meeting at the White House Wednesday that stunned people from both parties.
Ryan told reporters Thursday that he’s not sure how many Republicans might oppose the measure yet. But he said Trump made a “game call” to side with Democrats because “he thought it was in our country’s interest … to have bipartisan support.”
House GOP leadership sources say they don’t expect a majority of Republicans to support the debt ceiling-disaster aid package, with anywhere from 75 to 100 Republicans expected to back the measure.
Still, the White House is still hoping to boost GOP support for the legislation. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, a former Freedom Caucus conservative, will head to Capitol Hill Friday morning to urge House Republicans to back the agreement shortly before the vote takes place.
In his letter, Walker emphasized that debt ceiling increases that aren’t accompanied by spending reforms have historically failed to garner much Republican support.
“The most recent ‘clean’ debt limit vote on February 11, 2014, earned the support of only 28 House Republicans,” he noted. Instead, Walker offered a series of conservative measures — from adding work requirements to Medicaid to a repeal of Obamacare to reforms to the National Flood Insurance Program — that he said would garner more Republican votes.
Conservative Republicans from Texas, though, are struggling to reconcile their support for disaster relief funding with their antipathy for raising the nation’s borrowing cap without fiscal reforms. Though Hensarling and Barton have signaled opposition to the measure, other Texans feel compelled to support it.
“It’s so bad in Texas, there’s no way I can vote against it,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold. “I’ve seen the devastation firsthand and FEMA’s going to run out this weekend if we don’t do something.”
Reps. Roger Williams and Bill Flores, two other Texas Republicans, say they’re still undecided.
“Something that’s really good for a population that has been severely impacted is being coupled with something that’s really bad for all our kids and grandkids,” said Flores. “I think it’s unfair to the American people.”
“Debt limit and hurricanes are not even the same thing,” Williams complained, pointing out that he had voted for a clean debt limit increase previously. “I don’t think they should be put together.”
“But I’m from Texas also. I’ve got a lot of friends who are hurting,” Williams added, sounding like a possible “yes” vote. “I will be candid with you – to not vote for it would be hard when I’ve got friends down there, business associates that are wiped out.”
Democrats began grappling Thursday with the reality that they’re likely going to be asked to provide the bulk of votes to support the spending package. But discontent simmered in their ranks as well. Some voiced frustration that their leaders may have bargained away leverage to protect undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as minors and now face deportation risk as a result of Trump’s decision to wind down Obama-era protections.
Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.), one of the most outspoken opponents, told colleagues during a private meeting Thursday morning that Democrats’ “bond and trust” with Dreamers has been broken.
Gutiérrez has vowed to vote against any spending bill that doesn’t include protections for Dreamers. But it’s unclear how many other Democrats are planning to join him in opposition.
House Democrats from various Democratic caucuses — including representatives from the Hispanic, progressive, Asian-American, black and LGBT groups — met secretly Wednesday night to vent about the deal Democratic leaders cut with Trump.
But Democratic aides, who have not done a formal whip count, say it’s unclear how many members will actually vote against the bill. They expect some members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in addition to Gutiérrez and some liberal lawmakers will oppose the package.
Ultimately, though, Democratic aides expect a big showing of support on their side, arguing members won’t want to be on record voting against disaster relief.
John Bresnahan and Rachael Bade contributed to this report.
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