House conservatives were fuming Friday morning as the Republican conference voted on a deal President Donald Trump struck with Democrats to fund aid for Hurricane Harvey alongside measures to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling through mid-December.
Before the crucial vote, Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin and White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney met with House Republicans at the Capitol to try to persuade holdouts to back the deal. Conservatives on the Hill oppose raising the debt ceiling without simultaneously passing fiscal reforms, and Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), chair of the Republican Study Committee, told leadership Thursday night that he and other conservatives would oppose the deal.
Walker was far from pleased following the Friday morning meeting. He was particularly irked by Mnuchin’s closing pitch to House Republicans, which he described as “weak.” Walker said that the Treasury secretary told GOP members, “Vote for the debt ceiling for me.”
“That did not go well in the room at all,” Walker told reporters following the meeting. “You could hear the murmurs in the room.”
Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) said he thought Mnuchin’s arguments in the meeting were “intellectually insulting.”
“How in the world did we get trapped into linking a clean debt ceiling increase over the long run with Harvey funding? To me that’s very cynical. I don’t like it,” Brat told reporters after the meeting.
“He doesn’t get it,” Brat complained, referring to Mnuchin.
Walker said that Mnuchin and Mulvaney were unable to answer questions from members about how the White House would approach votes on the budget and debt ceiling in December. Brat also lamented that the pair were not able to lay out a plan for “fiscal sanity” to be employed later this year.
The irony of Mulvaney, who was a fiscal hawk as a member of Congress and a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, pitching Republicans on a clean debt ceiling increase was apparent.
Walker told reporters “it got a little warm for Mulvaney at times” as members reminded him about his position on the debt ceiling while serving in the House.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) told reporters after the meeting that he’d asked Mulvaney if he had any openings in the Office of Management and Budget, joking that the budget chief could perhaps hire some Republican members of Congress so that they could change their thinking on the debt ceiling. Issa said he made the comment in “good humor.”
“It was the only time I’ve seen Director Mulvaney quiet and speechless in at least five years,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) said of Issa’s quip.
Despite the irony, Meadows did not seem upset that Mulvaney was pitching a clean debt ceiling hike.
“He has a different job and a different boss now,” Meadows told reporters.
The deal passed easily in the House, albeit with 90 “no” votes. Not all conservatives opposed to clean debt ceiling hikes were persuaded to support the bill: Rep. Joe Barton was one of four House Republicans from Texas to vote against aid for their own state.
“I’m not a happy camper about this process,” he told reporters, arguing that leaders should not tie difficult votes to hurricane relief aid.