Moments after news broke that President Donald Trump had abruptly sided with Democrats on a short-term debt ceiling increase, hurricane relief and a federal funding bill over the unanimous opposition of Republicans, a wave of cheers and applause emanated from the room on the second floor of the Capitol building where Senate Democrats were meeting over lunch.
When they emerged, however, Democrats were coy about what the burst of celebration was for.
“Oh, was there applause?” Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) said with a smile. “Maybe they were clapping for somebody’s birthday. Who knows?”
“We clap for a lot of things in our caucus,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) deadpanned.
While playing down the political victory they had just scored—winning all of their demands from a Republican president—the Democrats acknowledged that the deal gives them leverage down the road to extract concessions from the Republican majority, such as protections for immigrants now at risk of losing their DACA protections.
“You bet,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) responded when asked by TPM if the three-month timeline gives Democrats an upper hand in future negotiations over DACA. “We’re going to have the chance over the next few weeks to talk about how these young people really represent the best of America. This gives us a chance to make the case for good policy, and good policy is the best politics.”
Casey agreed, telling TPM: “We’ve often done short term deals on a number of things, not just [continuing resolutions]. It’s one way to keep everyone at the table.”
Asked about President’s Trump decision Wednesday to side with Democrats over his own party, Casey laughed. “Well, that doesn’t happen very often,” he said.
Though mostly somber following the White House meeting, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer allowed himself a small amount of gloating when speaking to reporters on Wednesday, saying of Trump: “To his credit, he went with the better argument.”
Republican senators, meanwhile, emerged from their party luncheon with grim expressions and terse defenses of President’s Trump’s decision to side with Democrats.
“That was his decision,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) quipped, ducking away from reporters in the Capitol’s basement.
Sen. John Barasso (R-WY), another member of the GOP leadership team, was also less-than-thrilled.
“The president has made a decision and an agreement and we’re going to work to support the president,” he said stiffly. Asked if it was the right decision for the country, he answered: “You’ll have to ask the president.”
Rank-and-file Republicans were more open about their displeasure.
“Patience is wearing thin on short-term funding of this government,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) told reporters. “It’s just horrible. It’s fiscal malpractice. It’s just gotta end.”
Though Tillis hesitated when asked if Democrats out-maneuvered Republicans on this deal, which could pass the Senate as early as Thursday, he grudgingly admitted: “For people who want to keep score, maybe that’s true.”
But a handful of lawmakers, including Murphy, described the short-term deal as less of a win than the least bad option available.
“Kicking the can down the path for three months is not a victory,” he said. “Nobody really wins when you just push tough decisions away for three months.”