With much of the Washington Republican establishment still grumbling about President Donald Trump’s decision earlier this week to strike a deal with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, one prominent member of the House Freedom Caucus took to the Sunday Talk Shows to deliver what sounded like the faction’s official response to the week’s events.
In an appearance on Fox News Sunday, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan struck a delicate balance: criticizing the consequences of the president's decision without impugning the man himself.
Jordan explained that while the Trump-Schumer-Pelosi deal wouldn’t be “good for the American taxpayer” the president can be excused for agreeing to it because Republicans in Congress failed to provide him with a suitable alternative.
And just like that, a member of the House’s most intransigent, conservative faction – the group that almost singlehandedly crushed the Trump administration’s health-care ambitions – turning the blame for Trump’s debt-ceiling can-kicking, and the powerful leverage that Democrats gained because of it, back on the president’s favorite opponents: Congressional Republicans.
“I don’t think this was a good deal for the American taxpayer. We didn’t go anything to address the underlying $20 trillion debt but frankly what options did the president have in front of him? The first time the Republican conference talked about the debt ceiling was Sunday morning. And the Freedom Caucus had called for, nine and a half weeks ago, we said ‘don’t leave town until you have a plan on the debt ceiling’ and instead we went home for the longest August recess in a decade, longer even than in elections years.”
Of course, Jordan’s criticism focuses squarely on the Congressional Republican leadership. He excuses the Freedom Caucusers from blame by effectively saying that Trump’s deal with the Democrats could’ve been avoided if Speaker Paul Ryan had listened to the group’s suggestion to delay summer recess until a debt-ceiling plan had been formulated.
The most important takeaway here: After spending the first eight months of Trump's term battling with the president, House conservatives appear to be extending an olive branch to the administration while also advancing their goal of ousting the party’s Congressional leadership.
"We should’ve stayed here and put together ideas. We offered ideas in the Freedom Caucus. We said let’s cap spending as a percentage of GDP and we’ll raise the debt ceiling. I learned a long time ago that when you fail to prepare, you get a bad outcome. And that’s what happened here."
When asked whether he thought handing so much leverage to Pelosi and Schumer – who can now use the December debt ceiling negotiations to demand concessions, possibly allowing them to force through a bill to codify DACA as law – Jordan said he hadn’t really thought about it.
Instead he reiterated that the next debt-ceiling bill include some of the spending constraints that conservative Republicans have demanded.
“I don’t look at it as whether it’s good or bad for the American people. So, I don’t think it’s good for the American taxpayer I don’t think it’s good for the American people when you just raised the debt ceiling and don’t do anything to address the underlying problem, this is like your kid at college…who has your credit card…I think if that was your son or my son we’d have a problem with that. Let’s cap spending as a percentage of GDP, let’s bring spending back below its historic norm of 20% of gross domestic product.”
Jordan said Trump’s deal could be an opportunity for Republicans to sell their own plan to the American people.
I look at this as optimistic…we have the chance to put together a plan and take that case to the American people early and take it to them and pass it.”
Asked whether he was worried about future collaborations between the president and Democrats, Jordan said he was not.
“The president is focused on doing what he told the American people he told them he was going to do. That’s why we’ve got to get our plan out there early and take it to the American people, if we do that early we can win. What’s going to happen in the future is we’re solely and totally focused on what the America people elected us to do.”
Jordan added that he had no doubts about Trump’s conservative bona fides.
When pressed about rumors that Paul Ryan would soon be replaced as speaker, rumors that were kickstarted after reports of a meeting between Ryan, Jordan and Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows, he said they were untrue.
“No one’s talking about changing leadership what we’re talking about is just what I said.”
In summary, despite Trump’s numerous “scandals” and “legislative failures,” the Freedom Caucus has finally accepted that the president enjoys boundless political durability, and that it might be to their advantage to try and mend ties with the White House. Compounding this, Meadows himself offered a similar response to the president’s deal on Friday, assuring reporters that cooperating with Democrats would be a “one-time thing,” and that Trump made his decision in the interest of passing a Harvey relief measure ASAP – absolving him of some responsibility for the deal.