Trump’s deal-mak­ing with top Democrats en­rages the right – and alarms the left

Spurn­ing his own party, the pres­i­dent last week reached agree­ments with arch crit­ics. Is this a fresh start, or a smart bid to dis­credit op­po­nents?

The Observer - - WORLD - By Lau­ren Gam­bino, Sab­rina Sid­diqui and David Smith Washington

Don­ald Trump in­fu­ri­ated sup­port­ers and be­wil­dered politicians across the spec­trum last week with a se­ries of ini­tia­tives hint­ing that a less par­ti­san pres­i­dency could be emerg­ing from the chaos of the White House.

The pres­i­dent’s per­for­mance, which saw him strik­ing ide­o­log­i­cal pos­tures that de­lighted Democrats, sur­prised even those grown used to the er­ratic an­tics of his pres­i­dency. The con­fus­ing sig­nals left sea­soned politicians stum­bling for ex­pla­na­tions as de­tails emerged of an ex­tra­or­di­nary en­counter be­tween the pres­i­dent and some of his most bit­ter Demo­cratic party crit­ics.

A glee­ful ac­count by Chuck Schumer, the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, of his meet­ing with Trump – which led to an agree­ment over how to deal with un­doc­u­mented young mi­grants – cap­tured the drama. “He likes us,” Schumer said. “He likes me, any­way.” His con­ver­sa­tion with his Repub­li­can coun­ter­part, Mitch McCon­nell, was caught by a live mi­cro­phone on the Senate floor. Schumer con­tin­ued: “Here’s what I told him: I said, ‘Mr Pres­i­dent, you’re much bet­ter off if you can some­times step right and some­times step left. If you have to step just in one di­rec­tion, you’re boxed.’ He gets that.”

The snatch of con­ver­sa­tion came af­ter a White House din­ner to which McCon­nell was point­edly not in­vited. In­stead Schumer, along with Nancy Pelosi, the Demo­crat leader in the House, en­joyed red and white wine, while the tee­to­tal pres­i­dent sipped Coke. They emerged claim­ing to have struck a deal to pro­tect young un­doc­u­mented mi­grants brought to the US as chil­dren.

As Trump turned to Democrats for a se­cond time in two weeks – and as some claimed to de­tect a newly cau­tious Trump ton­ing down rhetoric over such vexed is­sues as North Korea and Iran – Repub­li­cans on Capi­tol Hill were left won­der­ing whether they had lost sway with the pres­i­dent, de­spite hav­ing con­trol of both cham­bers and a mount­ing leg­isla­tive agenda. There was also a fu­ri­ous back­lash from some in the Trump base. An­gry sup­port­ers posted videos of them­selves burn­ing a sig­na­ture Trump ‘Make Amer­ica Great Again’ hat.

But Trump’s un­ortho­dox ma­noeu­vre also raised ques­tions over how far Democrats should go to court him with­out alien­at­ing their own sup­port­ers. What re­mained un­clear was Trump’s strat­egy – if he has one.

His mo­tives for “step right, step left” ap­pear var­i­ous. He has fallen out with McCon­nell and the House speaker, Paul Ryan, es­pe­cially af­ter their fail­ure to pass health­care leg­is­la­tion. He in­stinc­tively grav­i­tates towards Schumer, a fel­low New Yorker, and towards prag­matic deal-mak­ing rather than ide­ol­ogy.

He is also bask­ing in pos­i­tive me­dia cov­er­age af­ter months of be­ing ham­mered. Last week, af­ter work­ing with Schumer and Pelosi on a three-month ex­ten­sion for the na­tional debt ceil­ing, he called Schumer, who re­counted to the New York Times: “He said, ‘This was so great!’ Here’s what he said: ‘Do you watch Fox News?’ I said, ‘Not re­ally.’ ‘They’re prais­ing you!’ Mean­ing me. But he said, ‘And your sta­tions’ – I guess mean­ing MSNBC and CNN – ‘are prais­ing me! This is great!’”

Trump’s ad­dic­tion to TV news chan­nels seems in­tact, but he is spend­ing less time in the rightwing fever swamps of the in­ter­net, ac­cord­ing to the web­site Ax­ios. John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, has re­port­edly re­stricted the num­ber of ar­ti­cles that staff print out from sites such as Bre­it­bart and bring to his at­ten­tion. “The dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent in­for­ma­tion Trump re­ceives daily un­der Kelly is an un­der­looked fac­tor in Trump’s de­ci­sion to dou­ble down on his part­ner­ship with the Demo­cratic lead­ers,” Ax­ios said.

This, along with the re­place­ment of press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer by the less gaffe-prone Sarah San­ders, and the oust­ing of trou­ble­mak­ers Steve Ban­non and Se­bas­tian Gorka, have given some hope that the administration is fi­nally pro­fes­sion­al­is­ing and steer­ing towards a mid­dle course.

But even as pun­dits pon­dered the dawn of a new era and talked of a “pivot” or “bi­par­ti­san” pres­i­dent, Trump’s re­li­ably twitchy thumbs sug­gested there was no mean­ing­ful shift in be­hav­iour. In a char­ac­ter­is­tic early-morn­ing tweet­storm, he sug­gested on Fri­day that the per­pe­tra­tors be­hind the Par­sons Green ter­ror­ist at­tack were al­ready “in the sights” of Scot­land Yard – prompt­ing a re­buke from Theresa May.

Trump also used the ter­ror at­tack to push for his travel ban against some Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries, ar­gu­ing it should be “far larger, tougher and more spe­cific”, while adding: “But stupidly, that would not be po­lit­i­cally cor­rect!”

His tone was equally in­con­sis­tent last Thurs­day while tour­ing parts of Florida left dev­as­tated by Hur­ri­cane Irma. In one mo­ment, he was Trump the deal­maker, rel­ish­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to speak to re­porters about his ne­go­ti­a­tions with Democrats. But at an­other turn, when asked about a meet­ing he held with Tim Scott, the Senate’s only black Repub­li­can, Trump again de­clared that “both sides” were to blame for the vi­o­lence in Char­lottesville, Vir­ginia.

While Schumer and Pelosi spent the im­me­di­ate mo­ments af­ter their din­ner with Trump craft­ing a state­ment about a po­ten­tial deal on De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals (Daca), the pres­i­dent was more pre­oc­cu­pied with tweet­ing about “Crooked Hil­lary ”. He also made com­ments and tweets that sowed con­fu­sion over what had been agreed.

The shift­ing sands leave main­stream Repub­li­cans, hard­line Trump sup­port­ers and Democrats scram­bling to find their foot­ing. McCon­nell and Ryan have tried to be cir­cum­spect, de­spite what might be seen as pub­lic hu­mil­i­a­tion. The House speaker said point­edly: “I think the pres­i­dent un­der­stands that he has to work with the con­gres­sional ma­jori­ties to get any kind of leg­isla­tive so­lu­tion.”

Con­gress­man Pete Ses­sions, a Texas Repub­li­can and chair of the rules com­mit­tee, said: “Typ­i­cally a pres­i­dent of our party would work with our party on a pro­posal that we would be sup­port­ive of, and so we’re learn­ing now how he wants to op­er­ate.” Other con­ser­va­tives were more out­spo­ken. Straight af­ter Wed­nes­day’s din­ner, Iowa con­gress­man Steve King, a Repub­li­can, tweeted: “Trump base is blown up, de­stroyed, ir­repara­ble and dis­il­lu­sioned be­yond re­pair. No prom­ise is cred­i­ble.”

Ann Coul­ter, a con­ser­va­tive com­men­ta­tor, tweeted: “At this point, who DOESN’T want Trump im­peached?” And Bre­it­bart, run by Trump’s for­mer chief strate­gist Ban­non, ran the head­line “Amnesty Don”. But the base is no mono­lith. Fox News and the con­ser­va­tive broad­caster, Rush Lim­baugh, praised Trump for his ne­go­ti­at­ing skills.

The crowds who pour into his rau­cous ral­lies are un­likely to lose faith over horse-trad­ing on Capi­tol Hill, es­pe­cially with their hos­til­ity towards Repub­li­can elites. For Democrats, the Trump ini­tia­tive is fraught with risk. The pres­i­dent is seen by many as a dem­a­gogue, misog­y­nist and white na­tion­al­ist to be re­sisted at all costs. He is no­to­ri­ously op­por­tunis­tic, im­pro­vi­sa­tional and mer­cu­rial.

Some on the left warn that any­one who gets too close to him will be burned. Nor­man Solomon, a Bernie San­ders del­e­gate from Cal­i­for­nia to last year’s Demo­cratic na­tional con­ven­tion, said: “Trump is hold­ing tight to so many odi­ous poli­cies that it’s tempt­ing to re­joice when he de­cides to loosen his grip on one or an­other, once in a while. But the prob­lem is not only that Trump is an ex­pert at prais­ing peo­ple and then shaft­ing them.

“What’s also a huge dan­ger in the cur­rent bi­par­ti­san fore­play is what could be called ‘ the op­tics’ of Demo­cratic lead­er­ship mak­ing nice with a sym­bolic and ac­tual rep­re­sen­ta­tive of mas­sive greed and oli­garchy. If Democrats want to op­pose Trump as the heart­less cor­po­rate mon­ster that he is, then mak­ing nice with him in photo-ops and boast­ing that he likes them is not good ground­work for win­ning work­ing-class votes in the next few years.”

Demo­cratic lead­ers are aware of the lim­i­ta­tions posed by work­ing with Trump. One Senate Demo­cratic aide, who did not wish to be named, said the goal was to ad­dress is­sues re­quir­ing im­me­di­ate at­ten­tion – the fate of Daca re­cip­i­ents and leg­is­la­tion to sta­bilise the health in­sur­ance mar­kets. With a new dead­line of mid- De­cem­ber to fund the gov­ern­ment and raise the debt limit, the aide said, Democrats have a lim­ited win­dow.

Trump’s er­ratic be­hav­iour, the aide cau­tioned, “makes the price of our co­op­er­a­tion very, very, very high”, adding: “I think that you have to weigh what you’re able to achieve.”

‘If Democrats want to op­pose Trump as the heart­less cor­po­rate mon­ster… nice pho­toops are not good’ Nor­man Solomon, Demo­crat

Pho­to­graph by Win McNamee/ Getty

Don­ald Trump leav­ing the White House with his wife Me­la­nia on Fri­day.

Pho­to­graph by Evan Vucci/AP

The pres­i­dent with, from left, Mitch McCon­nell, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi on Wed­nes­day. His pol­icy deals with Schumer and Pelosi shook Washington.

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