A few months ago, at the height of the health care debate, it was an open secret that Republicans were terrified of the prospect of Donald Trump negotiating directly with Democratic leaders. The fear, of course, was that the amateur president would sit down Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, he'd find their pitch compelling; and Trump would end up giving Dems everything they asked for.
All of this came to mind yesterday, when the president hosted an Oval Office meeting with congressional leaders on some of the fiscal issues pending on Capitol Hill. Democrats had already called for a three-month extension on the debt ceiling, pushing the issue off until December. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), about an hour before the White House gathering, described this approach "ridiculous," "disgraceful," and "unworkable." Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin hated it, too.
And yet, Donald Trump, without a whole lot of debate, endorsed it anyway.
Steven Mnuchin, seated on a couch to the president's right, had pushed this point before: A longer-term extension of 18 months would extend the deadline past the midterms -- which would take partisan politics out of the debate, in his view.
But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., disagreed: He wanted something much shorter. The president, in deal-making mode, had heard enough.
As Mnuchin made his case, Trump cut in: He would side with Schumer, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats to make a 90-day deal to lift the debt ceiling.
The result was a bipartisan package deal that gave Democrats exactly what they wanted: disaster-relief funding for Hurricane Harvey victims, a three-month extension on the debt ceiling, and a three-month spending bill that keeps the government's lights on until December.
I've seen some reports that Trump helped broker the "deal" yesterday, but Slate's Jim Newell raised an excellent point: "It's not even a 'deal' in the sense of give-and-take between two sides. It is, to the letter, the request that Democrats had made and that Ryan and the leadership team had decried as an affront to God immediately after."
I'm not sure who was more surprised yesterday afternoon: Republicans, who thought Trump would defend the GOP line with vigor, or Democrats, who didn't expect to prevail so easily.