WASHINGTON — At the end of Wednesday’s Oval Office meeting with congressional leaders, President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer grinned and nearly embraced as they bantered like two New Yorkers concluding a hot deal.
That moment, captured in a widely reproduced photograph taken from afar through the Oval Office windows, has become what Schumer hopes is a symbol of a new bipartisanship, or as he put it, “a metaphor for the future.”
“It was after the meeting and we were simply bantering about trying to work together in a bipartisan way,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a phone interview, discussing how Trump cut a deal with Democrats to add the debt ceiling to a legislative package that combined federal spending extension and Harvey emergency disaster aid.
Trump made the deal over the objections of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who left the meeting stunned.
Afterward, Ryan and McConnell said it was Trump’s decision, and they would carry it out. The Senate approved the $15.3 billion package in a bipartisan vote Thursday. The House is to vote on that version Friday.
“I know there’s a lot of interpretations in all of this stuff about the meeting,” Ryan said Thursday. The president made it clear “what he was aiming for in that meeting yesterday was a bipartisan moment while the country is facing two horrible hurricanes,” Ryan said.
Schumer had reason to smile as he was caught in Wednesday’s photo, with Trump clasping him with one arm and draping the other over his shoulder.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that Trump did not make a quick decision. The meeting was long, intense and filled with a “lively debate,” she said.
“McConnell and Ryan just wanted it their way. And we proposed a compromise, and he accepted it,” Schumer said. “And the president and I, we worked it out in the confines of that room.”
He added, “We made things a lot better — avoided government shutdown for a period of time, avoided the government not paying its debt, got Harvey funded — in a way that passed the Senate overwhelmingly.”
Schumer said he brought up other issues that he and Trump agree on, including how both believe China takes advantage of the United States in trade. Schumer said he also suggested that Congress should give up its votes on raising the debt ceiling.
Pelosi hinted that it was Schumer who won over Trump. “He could speak New York to the president,” she said.
Earlier this year, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) predicted the relationship between Trump and Schumer would be like that between any two New Yorkers, that it would run “hot and cold.”
Schumer said he had not seen Trump in person since January, a period in which he and the president took shots at each other. But in the past two days, Schumer met with Trump twice: on Wednesday about the disaster aid bill and on Thursday with other New York and New Jersey politicians to discuss funding for the Gateway project, which would dig a Hudson River tunnel to Penn Station.
“We talk like New Yorkers. We’re direct, blunt, don’t mess around,” Schumer said.
“Here’s basically what I said: ‘I’m not going to obstruct for its own sake, but compromise means that you’ve got to move in our direction to some extent.’ He can’t just say what he wants to do and expect everybody to do it,” Schumer said. “He proved himself at that meeting.”