Peter Friedmann's View from Washington, DC - September, 2017

And now for something completely different....

President Trump has said much that has shocked the country, but perhaps nothing he has done will have the repercussions of his surprising dealmaking with Democratic leadership, cutting out leadership of his own party -- not just once, but twice during September. It could shape the rest of this Administration's tenure, and impact the country in an unprecedented and potentially very constructive way.

When Congress returned from the August recess, the common wisdom here in DC was that we were headed into two cataclysmic battles between the President (and his Republican Congressional Majority) and Democrats in the House and Senate. They had intractable differences: first, on whether to increase the debt limit (and risk a shutdown of the government) and second, whether to extend the so-called "Dreamers" law (DACA), allowing children who were brought to this country illegally, to stay here. Washington and federal agencies began gearing up what appeared to be a real possibility of another government shutdown.

But then the unprecedented happened, frustrated by the inability of his Republican majorities in the House and Senate to repeal and replace of the Affordable Care Act earlier this year, he made a deal with the Democratic Senate and House leadership to increase the debt limit - without even consulting Republican leaders. He kept enough Republican votes, and got almost all Democratic votes, passed an increase to the debt limit, and thus avoided what has often been a debilitating partisan battle. (As this deal expires Mid-December, we’ll see if the battle erupts then.) Republican leadership was shocked, conservatives who sought to use the debt limit vote to force some reductions in Federal spending were angered. They had been relegated to the sidelines.

Not just once but twice! Next, he negotiated with Democratic leaders Senator Chuck Schumer and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, to extend the DACA for 6 months, rather than terminating it, saying it is up to Congress to terminate or extend or make it permanent. Again, without including Republican leadership. While his own party has vigorously opposed extension of this Obama program (as did candidate Trump) it appears that Pres. Trump, after collaboration with Democratic leadership, may support its extension, and possibly, even make it permanent.

President Trump is making it clear that he is not going to be captive to party allegiance. In fact, he may be showing his true colors. It is widely recognized that Trump was largely elected by disaffected Republicans, Democrats and many who just hadn't voted in a long time - voters with little confidence in the political party establishment. And the President himself has only been a Republican for the last 5 ½ years; he was a registered Democrat, and also registered Independent before that. President Trump Is the first president In over 100 years who did not come up through either the Republican or Democratic party - he is the first President (other than General Eisenhower) not to have been previously elected to lower offices, and thus not to be indebted to either party.

He has sent a powerful message to all of Congress -- namely, he is going to pursue an agenda which may or may not align with either party. For a president to skirt his own party, to 'ice' his party's leadership not once but twice in the span of 2 weeks, is unprecedented.

Now, we are in uncharted territory. Was this just a temporary strategic play? Or could it be that President Trump, through his apparent willingness to deal exclusively with the Democratic leadership from time to time, and to back off some campaign promises, is beginning down a new and less partisan path? All we know is that he has put everyone in Washington DC on guard. Traditional alliances may not determine the path of legislation under this president. Whether that leads to getting more done here in Washington DC, remains to be seen. But it's a possibility.

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