White House scrambles to rebrand spending bill as Trump ‘win’ – Politico
The Trump administration is doing damage control as Congress inches toward passage of a massive spending deal that ducks the president’s most contentious demands.
Less than 48 hours after the funding bill’s release, White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney is forcefully working to reverse the narrative that Democrats emerged as clear victors, and President Donald Trump is touting the legislation as delivering on his core campaign promises.
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“They’re walking around trying to make it like they pulled one over fast on the president, and I just won’t stand for it,” Mulvaney said Tuesday afternoon during the daily White House press conference.
The budget director’s appearance at the White House media briefing marked his third check-in with reporters since Monday evening — a press blitz seemingly spurred by an angry president.
According to one person familiar with Trump’s thinking, the president was furious Tuesday morning with news coverage about the spending deal and “the idea he looked like the loser.”
Mulvaney was asked to do a last-minute media briefing Tuesday morning, after holding a call with reporters Monday night, and to clear his schedule for the 1:30 p.m. press conference, a White House official said.
Trump instructed his aides to change the messaging around the spending bill and decided to speak about the deal during an unrelated event at the Rose Garden, in an attempt to himself alter the narrative, one White House official said.
The president also took to Twitter to justify the Republican party’s Democratic concessions, explaining that the GOP only ceded to the minority party because Republicans lacks the requisite Senate votes to pass a spending bill without Democratic support.
“Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!” Trump tweeted.
One adviser who frequently speaks to Trump said the president closely follows news coverage and tweets “when he feels like he isn’t being defended.”
Asked about Trump’s shutdown threat, Mulvaney said he thinks “the president is frustrated with the fact that he negotiated in good faith with the Democrats, and they went out to try to spike the football and make him look bad.”
While the budget director said he does not anticipate a lapse in federal funding in September, he warned that “if the Democrats aren’t going to behave any better than they have in the last couple of days, it may be inevitable.”
Earlier Tuesday, Mulvaney accused Democrats of trying to spur a shutdown on the spending bill Congress will consider this week.
“[Democrats] didn’t get what many of them, including many in their base, wanted — they wanted a shutdown,” Mulvaney told reporters. “They wanted to make this president look like he did not know what he was doing. And he beat them on that at the very, very highest level. They were desperate to show that we were not reasonable, and we completely destroyed that narrative by negotiating this deal. This is a huge win for the president.”
The $1 trillion funding measure both the House and Senate are expected to pass by Friday ignores the most high-profile items on the White House’s wish list, including funding for Trump’s border wall project and the proposed $18 billion in cuts to domestic programs. But after a full day of Democratic victory parades on Capitol Hill, Mulvaney trumpeted the $15 billion boost in war funding and $1.5 billion for border security as major successes for the president.
In a speech Tuesday dedicated to honoring the Air Force Academy’s football team, Trump talked up Republicans’ “under-the-radar” victories in the spending bill — including border security. He also tried to claim a win on his long-promised border wall, arguing he could make a “down payment” and create an “unbreakable” barrier with the additional border security cash.
“We have more money now for the border than we have gotten in 10 years,” the president said. “The Democrats didn’t tell you that. They forgot.”
Although Democrats specifically blocked any funding for a wall along the Southern border, Mulvaney argued the additional money for border security will allow the administration to improve the “boundary” between the U.S. and Mexico.
During the White House press conference, Mulvaney stood in front of two large photos of chain-link fence being replaced with 20-foot-high steel fencing along the border. “That is not a temporary, short-term wall,” he said.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly also appeared at the White House press conference, talking up the additional border security “tools” his department is set to receive under the spending bill and the fact that immigrant apprehensions have gone down significantly since Trump took office.
The funding deal will facilitate $347 million toward the fencing replacement project, Mulvaney said, acknowledging that he does not know where the new fence will be erected or how many miles it will span.
“This stuff is going up now. Why? Because the president wants to make the country more safe,” he said. “You can call it new wall, you can call it replacement. Call it whatever you want to. The president’s priority was to secure the border.”
During negotiations, the former South Carolina congressman faced an uphill battle to assert any of Trump’s priorities in the spending bills, which were largely written before the president was elected. The budget director’s own experience voting against spending bills further complicated negotiations, lawmakers and aides have said.
Some Democratic leaders complained that Mulvaney kept them out of the talks, breaking the usual precedent and making calls only to GOP leaders.
In a departure from his stance as a congressman, Mulvaney is now celebrating the inclusion of billions of dollars in extra defense money, as well as cheering the fact that Democrats did not insist on a dollar-for-dollar match in additional defense and non-defense spending.
“We broke the parity system,” he said. “In fact, we broke it in such a way that almost defies logic that the Democrats would allow us to have such a huge win.”
Mulvaney noted that the legislation does not guarantee continued payment of Obamacare subsidies, that the $295 million in assistance for Puerto Rico comes from unexpended funding and that Democrats “didn’t get a penny” for renewable energy subsidies they sought.
He added that the legislation funds a school choice program, that Democrats did not succeed in inserting language related to firearms and that the measure would bar federal money from being used to fund abortions, despite the fact that it does not stop the flow of cash to Planned Parenthood.
The budget director also noted that the measure extends health care benefits for retired coal miners — a highly publicized priority for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
“The president was serious about getting miner’s health protections from the very minute he got here,” Mulvaney said, adding that the president worked with Manchin. “We got it on this deal. We count that as a victory.”
On Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told a packed room full of reporters that Democrats were “overwhelmingly” pleased with the bill and that the measure didn’t have a single “major loss” for his party.
Schumer said congressional leaders from both parties were “closer to one another than we were to the president” and that “seven or eight” Republicans oppose Trump’s border wall outright.