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Trump splits with GOP to support Democrats' plan to package Harvey aid, debt ceiling, spending

  • President Donald Trump agrees to support a Hurricane Harvey relief bill packaged with a short-term debt ceiling extension and government funding.
  • Republicans congressional leaders opposed the proposal for only short-term solutions put forth by Democratic leaders.
  • By passing the package, Congress would avoid two politically contentious September deadlines, for now.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday broke with his party and agreed to back a short-term debt ceiling extension and government funding measure as part of the package to approve relief funding for Hurricane Harvey.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell later said he would support the package.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said that "the president and the congressional leadership agreed" to the proposal following a meeting at the White House. Republican lawmakers in the room opposed Schumer and Pelosi's push to extend the debt limit and fund the government for only three months, but Trump agreed to it.

Talking to reporters on Air Force One on his way to a tax reform speech in North Dakota, Trump said the deal "will be very good."

"We had a very good meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. We agreed to a three-month extension on debt ceiling, which they consider to be sacred — very important — always we'll agree on debt ceiling automatically because of the importance of it," he said, according to a White House transcript.

"Also on the [continuing resolution on funding] and also on Harvey, which now we're going to be adding something because of what's going on [with Hurricane Irma] in Florida — but we had a very good meeting. We essentially came to a deal, and I think the deal will be very good," Trump added.

Just hours before, House Speaker Paul Ryan called a three-month debt limit increase proposed by Democrats "ridiculous" and "unworkable." An extension of only three months for the debt ceiling could give Democrats leverage over the majority Republicans.

If Congress can pass a package containing all three measures, it would knock out politically contentious September deadlines to avoid risking default on the federal debt and a government shutdown. But it would set up another showdown in December and puts the GOP in a difficult spot.

"In the meeting, the President and Congressional leadership agreed to pass aid for Harvey, an extension of the debt limit, and a continuing resolution both to December 15, all together. Both sides have every intention of avoiding default in December and look forward to working together on the many issues before us," Schumer and Pelosi said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) (L) makes a point to President Donald Trump in the Oval Office prior to his departure from the White House September 6, 2017 in Washington, DC.
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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) (L) makes a point to President Donald Trump in the Oval Office prior to his departure from the White House September 6, 2017 in Washington, DC.

The House on Wednesday easily approved nearly $8 billion in Hurricane Harvey relief funding. The bill did not include the debt limit or government funding.

McConnell said he would add the plan agreed to by Trump and Democrats as an amendment to the House-passed bill and support it.

"In a meeting down at the White House, the president and the Senate and House Democratic leadership agreed to a three-month continuing resolution and a debt ceiling into December. I will be adding that as an amendment to the flood relief bill that's come over from the House on the floor and I will be supporting it," the Kentucky Republican said.

White House legislative affairs director Marc Short will reportedly meet with congressional Republicans to sell the shorter debt limit timeline. Short reportedly said it would "clear the decks" for tax reform, though lawmakers will have to face the issues again in only three months.

The Senate was previously expected to attach just a debt limit extension to the measure before voting and sending it back to the House later this week. Some conservatives had opposed pairing both policies, at all, though GOP leaders had backed attaching a longer debt limit increase to the Harvey aid.

Ryan on Wednesday appeared to take issue specifically with the three-month extension timeline rather than pairing the two measures in the first place. He accused the Democratic leaders of "playing politics" and jeopardizing the federal response to Harvey by calling for a short-term debt limit hike.

"What the leaders you just described proposed is unworkable and it could put in jeopardy the kind of hurricane response we need to have," Ryan said. "To play politics with the debt ceiling like Schumer and Pelosi apparently are doing I don't think is a good idea."

Schumer and Pelosi had not insisted on combining legislation to pass the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program into law with measures to either raise the debt ceiling or fund the government. President Donald Trump on Tuesday ended the Obama-era DACA program protecting hundreds of thousands of young people from deportation, with a six-month delay to allow Congress to approve a bill extending it.

The Democratic leaders also stressed that they want to see the DREAM Act — which would put the program into law — "come to the floor and pass as soon as possible."

Asked earlier Wednesday if he could support the Democrats' three-month extension proposal, Trump said: "We'll see."

Ryan on Wednesday said "we will not leave" until the relief package is passed.

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