Weekend Politics: Congress Approves Harvey Relief

Sep 10, 2017
Originally published on September 11, 2017 2:45 pm
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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Florida Governor Rick Scott has requested a major disaster declaration from President Trump. The governor warned of the serious threat of damage from the storm surge flooding from Hurricane Irma. The President is receiving briefings on the storm at Camp David. Meanwhile, Texas is recovering from Hurricane Harvey. And here in Washington last week, Congress moved fairly quickly to approve more than $15 million for hurricane relief. Moved quikly, that is, after President Trump cut a deal with Democratic leaders in Congress. NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, joins us to talk about the president's week. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: So President Trump gets cozy with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, the leader...

LIASSON: (Laughter).

WERTHEIMER: ...Of the Senate and the House. Why?

LIASSON: At least for the moment. We don't know for certain why he did it. "The Art Of The Deal" is his brand. And so far, he hadn't been able to make any deals at all. So when the Democrats offered him this tiny, little, three-month delay for the government funding deadline and the debt ceiling, he took it. And it's just unclear what he got for it, beyond a couple of good headlines.

WERTHEIMER: So what does it mean? In the short term, he gets good headlines.

LIASSON: Well, in the short term, the big question is how it affects the highest priority on the Republicans' agenda and the president's agenda, which is tax reform. The Republicans still have a long way to go. They've only put out a one-page bullet points on tax reform and tax cuts. This just means they have a shorter timeframe to get it up, get it done. They wanted it done by the end of the year. Now they have until December 8.

WERTHEIMER: So any notion what happens when the debt ceiling deal expires? That's - what? - December 8?

LIASSON: December 8. It gives the Democrats a lot more leverage. They can attach all sorts of things to must-pass measures like the debt ceiling and government funding. They could put DACA on it, that bill that would legalize the young, illegal immigrants brought here as children because there also are a lot of things coming up that are going to need 60 votes, that are going to need Democrats.

And the president did something other than just agree with the Democrats on the timing of this. He agreed with them ideologically on possibly getting rid of the need to raise the debt ceiling all together. He's also agreed with them on DACA. He's made pretty clear he would sign it into law if Congress sent it to him. And he's not insisting on funding for his wall in return. As he put it, I want to get it done, and Chuck and Nancy want to get it done, too, his new BFFs.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter).

LIASSON: So it is possible we could end the year with Obamacare intact and stabilized by Congress, no wall, DACA legalized by Congress and no spending cuts. That would be pretty good for President Hillary Clinton.

WERTHEIMER: I mean...

LIASSON: (Laughter).

WERTHEIMER: But what would it do to President Donald Trump? I mean, has he abandoned his party? Is he dumping off the people that - his base - his very conservative base that we talk about all the time?

LIASSON: Well, this is such a good question. We don't know if this was a one-off deal or part of a new strategy. Don't forget, just a few weeks ago, he was calling Chuck Schumer the head clown. He certainly doesn't have any lifelong ideology. He pretty much adopted the hard-right Republican agenda on Obamacare, on social issues, on immigration.

So I think it's a - there's a tendency to overhype this as, oh, Trump is suddenly becoming an independent or a moderate. I think what this does guarantee down the road is more distrust of the president from his own party. They see he's not very loyal to them. So why should they be loyal to him? The question you asked about the base - that's a really big question. Do they like this new friendliness with Democrats? What does that mean for 2018?

You know, there are two parts to his base. One is what I call the Fifth Avenue voters. They're people who are not ideological. They're almost a cult of personality. He once said he could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone, not lose any voters. So they're going to stick with him no matter what.

But then there are the true conservatives who voted for him because they thought that he would enact their agenda. And so far, they haven't gotten anything concrete beyond judges. No repeal of Obamacare, no wall. What will they do in November of '18? Will they be depressed and less enthusiastic and stay home? Those are the kinds of things we're waiting for.

WERTHEIMER: Well, maybe something that tells us - that hints at what's ahead - is that there are some Republicans who are deciding not to run again.

LIASSON: Yes. So far, we have three Republicans who've decided to retire. A lot of times, retirements are like canaries in the coal mine. They show that a party is nervous about their prospects, and they don't want to run again. So the big question is, are these three retirements going to open the floodgates and show that Republicans are really anxious about losing their majority in 2018?

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Mara Liasson, thank you very much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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