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Trump Cuts Deal With Democrats To Further Congressional Agenda


The art of the deal apparently includes a heavy dose of surprise. President Donald Trump rattled members of his own party when he sat in the Oval Office yesterday with leaders from both parties. And in a deal to keep the government running, he sided with Democrats. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins me now.

Mara, what happened here?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: What happened was the president had the Republican and Democratic leadership over to the White House to talk about what they were going to do about these difficult issues, and Democrats made him an offer. They said, we'll fund Harvey; we'll give you a three-month extension on the debt ceiling and a three-month measure to keep the government running until mid-December.

This is something that the Republicans didn't want. Earlier in the day, Paul Ryan had called this three-month deal ridiculous and disgraceful. Republicans wanted a much longer debt limit extension because they didn't want their members to have to vote for this unpopular measure more than once before the next election.

But the next thing, you know, the president who wrote "The Art Of The Deal" said to the Democrats, you've got a deal. And here's how he described it later in the day when he was in North Dakota at an event, pushing his tax overhaul.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We had a great meeting with Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and the whole Republican leadership group. And I'll tell you what, we walked out of there - Mitch, and Paul and everybody - Kevin - and we walked out, and everybody was happy - not too happy because you can never be too happy.

LIASSON: Republicans were not too happy at all because, don't forget, this deal with Democrats comes after weeks of the president criticizing and scolding members of his own party, including the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. So I can't imagine that this is going to make relations between the president and his party any better.

MARTIN: Yeah, so given that, how are Republicans responding to this?

LIASSON: Well, I think their range of emotions goes from shock to anger. Yesterday, Congressman Kevin Cramer, who's the North Dakota Republican who was traveling with the president, talked to us on Air Force One. Here's what he said.


KEVIN CRAMER: I will tell you that I gasped when I heard it. In fact, I sought clarification when the president told us that before the flight, actually.

LIASSON: Cramer went on to say that he trusts the president's negotiating ability; he probably felt this was the best deal he could get. But, he said, it's going to be an extremely tough sell in our conference because nobody wanted this or expected it on the Republican side.

MARTIN: I mean, this is what a lot of so-called establishment Republicans during the election and the campaign had warned of. They weren't convinced that Donald Trump would be loyal to the GOP. So in - when you look at this, what - why did he do this? Why - I mean, why did he opt to go with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, people he has maligned in the past?

LIASSON: Well, there's two schools of thought. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was on the plane yesterday, and he tried to make the case that the president did this because he wanted a chance to come back in December to get more military spending on the government funding bill. That could be true, or that could be spin.

The other school of thought is that the president is impulsive. He wanted a deal. He didn't care very much who it was with or what the details were, and he just wasn't very happy with Republican leaders.

MARTIN: What does this mean for the president's decision or non-decision on DACA, and also for the plans he has for tax cuts?

LIASSON: Well, Republicans feel this decision, this three-month deal, means that the president has given Democrats a lot of leverage over the debate over DACA and even tax reform. The president has already said he wants a legislative fix for DACA. He wants to turn to President Obama's executive action into legislation. And here's what he said about that yesterday.


TRUMP: Chuck and Nancy would like to see something happen, and so do I. And I said, if we can get something to happen, we're going to sign it, and we're going to make it or - make a lot of happy people.

LIASSON: So again, Chuck and Nancy - he didn't really mention the Republicans there. In reality, he and the Republicans don't want to just do a simple DACA fix. They also want border security too. But this does mean that Democrats are going to have a lot more leverage on DACA, especially if they try to pass it to any - try to attach it to any of these must-pass measures that are now going to come up again in December.

On taxes, administration officials say this just puts more pressure on them to get the tax bill done before mid-December because now they have a much shorter window before they have to revisit these other issues like the debt ceiling and government funding.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, in the backdrop, the Russia investigations are rolling along. And there has been a new revelation from Facebook about selling ads to Russian-interest groups aligned with Russian interests in the 2016 election. What can you tell us about that?

LIASSON: That's right. This is something that the investigatory committees on Capitol Hill are very interested in. It turns out that Facebook sold ads to Russian interests. The big question is, when the Russian interests bought these ads, how did they know which Facebook feeds to put them in? How did they know which voters to target them to?

So they're interested in finding out if there was any kind of coordination or assistance from any American interests, like the Trump campaign, telling these Russians where and how to target these ads - what algorithms to use, for instance. And that's what - that is the new line of inquiry on Capitol Hill.

MARTIN: And speaking of Capitol Hill - more testimony expected to happen there on the Russia investigations today.

LIASSON: More testimony expected to happen - Donald Trump Jr. is going to be interviewed today behind closed doors by Senate Judiciary Committee staff members. They're interested in talking to him because of his involvement in setting up that June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer. So the Russia investigation continues as all of this other stuff is roiling the relationship between the president and his own party on Capitol Hill.

MARTIN: Lots of stuff. NPR's Mara Liasson - thanks so much, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.