Numbers are an immutable constant on Capitol Hill.
How many lawmakers vote yea or nay on an issue. How many can come together for an amendment. How many want to defund a certain program.
Numbers help explain President Trump’s recent dalliances with Democrats on immigration policy -- along with a package to avoid a government shutdown, fund hurricane relief efforts and suspend the debt ceiling.
Here are the important digits:
217-213. 17. 90
The first cipher is the tally in May on the health care bill approved by the House. Flip two votes and the measure fails due to a tie. Twenty Republicans voted nay. That’s a narrow margin.
Seventeen represents the number of Senate Republicans who opposed the government funding/hurricane aid/debt ceiling bill. With a slim 52-48 majority in the Senate, the GOP clearly required Democratic assistance.
Ninety represents the number of Republicans who cast nay ballots against the same trio package in the House. Only 133 Republicans voted yea compared to 183 Democrats.
Numerous congressional Republicans simply won’t vote for much of anything. The House GOP leadership and the Trump administration went to hell and back to finally craft an ObamaCare repeal-and-replacement package, which barely squeaked through the House.
Yet Trump and congressional Republicans have yet to ditch ObamaCare for something else. And so, if you’re the president, what are you left with?
“This president doesn’t have any choice but to turn and listen to Democrats to get something done,” said Rep. Lou Barletta. R-Pa., one of Trump’s most ardent and earliest House supporters. “He’s doing what everyone claims that’s what they want him to do.”
That is, work in a bipartisan fashion.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., says the president’s approach should surprise no one.
“We all knew his dealings here (on Capitol Hill) would be somewhat unorthodox,” said Corker, who huddled with Trump in a one-on-one meeting Friday. “There are going to be more issues where Democrats can deliver the votes.”
Plain and simple.
Trump may be thinking about 2020. It’s closer than you think. Republican congressional allies have delivered very little for the president when it comes to big items, save the installation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. The president has also pistol-whipped House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on various occasions.
“They have been strong partners with us,” said White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short of Ryan and McConnell recently at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast. “They have been terrific allies on tax reform. The regulatory front. I don’t know who could do it better than Mitch McConnell did.”
Maybe so for McConnell when it came to altering Senate precedent to muscle Gorsuch to confirmation. But the health care debacle really exasperated the president.
Trump faced a government shutdown and a potential debt-ceiling crisis had it not been for Democrats.
So when it comes to DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and a permanent solution for persons brought to the United States by their parents when they were young, the president sees one way to avoid a catastrophe.
“I don’t think this surprises anyone but (Iowa GOP Rep.) Steve King,” Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said about the president’s maneuver.
Simpson was referring to a tweet by King after Trump dined with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., a few nights ago and supposedly crafted a bargain on DACA.
“Trump base is blown up, destroyed, irreparable, and disillusioned beyond repair. No promise is credible,” King declared on Twitter after word came there was a “deal” between the president and the Democratic brass.
Nobody is truly sure what the leaders agreed to other than to address DACA.
The president is still insisting on a border wall. Many Democrats want a straight, up-or-down vote on the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors). It would grant eligible persons residency and possible citizenship if they meet certain qualifications.
To placate the Republican base, Trump sent a flurry of tweets early Thursday morning trying to alter perceptions of the meeting. Then, the president’s newest sentries on Capitol Hill -- Pelosi and Schumer -- flew air cover for the president in a joint statement that defended Mr. Trump’s tweets.
How’s that for irony?
Congressional Republicans are beyond freaked out.
Many were far from on board with Trump from the start. But they went along grudgingly. Now congressional Republicans will feel the ire of the right if conservative factions believe the president “caved” on “amnesty.”
To this point, congressional Republicans have few accomplishments on which to campaign in the 2018 midterm elections.
Many could face right-wing primary challenges. Substantive tax reform could be their only hope. But that enterprise is far from a fait accompli.
The GOP stumbled on health care. Now the president is cutting deals with Democrats. Republicans will sweat to justify their majorities to voters if they shamble through tax reform the way they did health care.
Aides to Ryan and McConnell took pains to remind reporters that their bosses are still the speaker and the Senate majority leader. They control the floors in both bodies.
“The president understands that he's got to work with the congressional majorities to get any kind of legislative solution,” Ryan opined.
Well, that hasn’t worked too well so far.
John Kelly is now the White House chief of staff. Long gone is former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who used to chair the Republican National Committee.
Priebus is a Badger State cohort of Ryan. With Priebus and Ryan in his ear, of course the president would initially just work with Republicans. But now?
As speaker, Ryan is always mindful about “buy-in” from the GOP Conference. Ryan hastily assembled a “working group” of Republicans to craft a solution to the DACA conundrum and also beef up border security.
The group includes hardliners on immigration policy like Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and moderates like Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas.
Hurd represents a sprawling district that borders Mexico and opposes constructing a wall.
The informal gang is an effort by the speaker to make sure House Republicans get input from stakeholders.
Detractors argue the coalition creates an alibi for the speaker to slow down any action on legislation for DREAMers if they aren’t able to forge a solution palatable to their GOP colleagues.
Republicans aren’t the only ones perplexed about the president’s newfound alliances with Pelosi and Schumer. Democrats view the entete with just as much trepidation.
Trump is anathema to liberals and progressives.
Those constituencies now dominate the Democratic Party. Look at how many Democratic senators signed on to the “Medicare for All” initiative launched last week by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont Independent.
The ability of Pelosi and Schumer to carve an agreement with Trump on the debt ceiling/government spending/hurricane relief bill impressed many Democrats. So they’re willing to grant their leaders some latitude. But Democrats are watching closely to see what happens to the DREAM Act.
“I think they will be judged on what they do on DACA,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.
But something else concerns Dingell and Democrats:
“I don’t trust Donald Trump on anything,” she also said. “It could all change in two to three hours.”
At this stage, no one is really sure what’s on the table.
“Details are the most important thing,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz. “Until we know what the president is thinking, everything is just talk.”
There will certainly be a lot of talk about the DACA/DREAMer issue in the coming days. That’s to say nothing of future battles over the debt ceiling, government funding and even tax reform. Republicans may have a majority in Congress.
Trump only needs some of them. Democrats are in the minority. The President needs lots of them.
Words don’t tell the story. Numbers do.