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Trump Sides With Democrats On Hurricane Relief And Fiscal Deadlines

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump and congressional leaders struck a deal today to provide the first installment of assistance to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Harvey. The deal also takes care of two big items looming over Capitol Hill - avoiding a government shutdown at the end of the month and raising the federal debt limit. NPR's Scott Detrow reports from the Capitol. The president seemed to give Democrats what they were asking for and leave his Republican allies frustrated.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: This afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walked into a pack of reporters and tried to explain just what had happened.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, good afternoon, everyone. As I think you now know, 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.

DETROW: McConnell is now supporting the deal. But going into his Oval Office meeting with the president and other congressional leaders, he and House Speaker Paul Ryan were dead set against it. Here's what was on the table. Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling this month so the federal government can keep paying its bills. Leaders on all sides agreed to do that alongside an $8 billion Harvey relief measure the House passed earlier in the day.

But McConnell and Ryan wanted an 18-month extension so they wouldn't have to return to a fight that's long been a source of GOP tension before the midterm elections. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said they'd be happy to return to the issue in three months. Before he headed to the White House, Ryan blasted the Democrats' offer.

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PAUL RYAN: We've got all this devastation in Texas. We've got another unprecedented hurricane hitting - about to hit Florida. And they want to play politics with the debt ceiling.

DETROW: Ryan has his political motivations, too. That's because it takes Democratic votes to pass government funding or raise the debt ceiling, and both of those things have to happen, which means it gives Democrats rare leverage on key issues like health care and immigration.

So according to both Republican and Democratic sources, the Republicans in the Oval Office meeting pushed for an 18-month extension, and Democrats said no. Then Republicans said, how about six? The Democrats stuck to three. And suddenly, President Trump agreed with them. Here's how Trump characterized it while flying to North Dakota on Air Force One.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We had a very good meeting. We essentially came to a deal. And I think the deal will be very good. We had a...

DETROW: And here's McConnell back in Washington.

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MCCONNELL: Look. The president can speak for himself, but his feeling was that we needed to come together.

DETROW: Dealmaking is a central part of Trump's brand. It's something he campaigned on throughout 2016.

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TRUMP: With Congress, you have to get everybody in a room, and you have to get them to agree. But you have to get them to agree what you want. And that's part of being a dealmaker.

DETROW: Now he's given Democrats a lot of leverage, and it's not clear what Trump got in return. Given all of that, it was notable how Trump described the meeting to reporters.

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TRUMP: We had a very good meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

DETROW: No mention of Ryan or McConnell. Schumer says the Democrats could have gone into the meeting with a hard-line stance and not tried to cut a deal.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: But we thought for the good of the country we should make the right offer, and we did. And we're very glad the president accepted it. It's for the good of the country. Now we have a lot more to get done.

DETROW: If Congress passes this, Democrats will be needed again in December when the new deadlines hit, and Schumer will be in a position to get a little bit more of what he wants done. Scott Detrow, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.