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GOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal

The Hill logo The Hill 7/18/2019 Jordain Carney
Richard Shelby et al. standing next to a person in a suit and tie: GOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal © Greg Nash GOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal

Senate Republicans say they want a sign directly from President Trump that he will support any spending and debt ceiling deal.

The push for the president to publicly say he would sign an agreement comes as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are on the cusp of a two-year budget deal that would also increase the debt ceiling into 2021.

"I think we need the president to indicate he'll support it," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an adviser to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), asked if assurances from Mnuchin would be enough.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) added that he and McConnell would also like to see Trump say he supports the budget deal before it comes up for a vote.

"Oh absolutely," Shelby said, asked if he needs a public assurance from Trump. "I think the leader would want that too."

The clamor for Trump to publicly weigh in comes after they were caught flat-footed in December when the president rejected a Senate-passed continuing resolution to avoid a partial government shutdown.

Senate Republicans say they received assurances from Vice President Pence that Trump would back the short-term measure and were in visible disbelief when they emerged from a closed-door lunch to find out he was rejecting their strategy.

This time Mnuchin has taken the lead on negotiations with congressional Democrats, while keeping GOP leadership and other White House staffers in the loop.

Shelby said he believed Pelosi and Mnuchin have an "agreement in principle" but still needed to "seal the deal." Asked what was the distinction between the two, Shelby indicated they still needed Trump to back it.

"We've got to get the president on board," Shelby said.

Trump and conservatives have previously rattled nerves on Capitol Hill by attacking budget and government funding bills. Conservatives fumed over a 2018 budget deal and Trump railed against a March 2018 continuing resolution, including floating that he could veto it, only to sign in.

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said he believes Republicans will support the bill if Trump backs it. Asked if he wants to a see a public assurance about Trump's support on a budget deal, Thune said, "yes."

"I think if the president supports it that you know most Republicans ... will be on board with it - maybe not everybody in the Freedom Caucus," he added.

Not every Republican said they needed to hear from Trump. Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, said he thought Mnuchin was "a good enough signal" that the president would support a deal.

"I think Mnuchin is doing a great job negotiating for the president, we believe that's what happening," he said.

There are signs of concern that conservatives within the administration could try to sink a potential budget deal.

As Mnuchin and Pelosi described themselves of being close to an agreement, an anonymous administration official accused the Speaker of engaging in "happy talk."

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned on Thursday afternoon that he has concerns acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney could try to sink an agreement.

"You always worry because Mulvaney is such a hard liner on these issues, that you always worry. But we'll see. Let's hope. Let's hope that cooler heads prevail and we come to an agreement soon," Schumer said.

Shelby repeatedly demurred when pressed directly about if he had concerns Mulvaney or the Office of Management and Budget were trying to undercut Mnuchin.

But asked if thought Trump should listen to the Treasury secretary or his acting chief of staff, Shelby sided with Mnuchin, who he called a "voice of reason" within the negotiations.

"I think he should listen to the secretary," Shelby said. "I think the secretary has been forthcoming ... and is trying to avoid a catastrophe on the debt limit."

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