ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
One way to view the president's surprise deal with the Democrats is as a reaction to the powerful one-two punch of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The idea is that it's easier to set aside partisan differences when a Category 5 storm is bearing down on the U.S. Whether this brings a lasting shift in political winds remains to be seen.
NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from the White House. And Scott, these back-to-back storms have consumed a lot of the president's attention in the last couple of weeks. How did that play into this deal with the Democrats?
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Robert, you're right. This has been a major focus. The president got a briefing this morning on preparations for hurricane Irma. He's issued a number of disaster declarations. And he says the twin disasters of Irma and Harvey added a sense of urgency to his meeting yesterday with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And I said, frankly it's time that we walk out and shake hands and have a deal. And they agreed. And I will tell you. It was - there was a lot of spirit in that room, a lot of good spirit.
HORSLEY: The president also says he would have agreed to a longer-term deal that Republicans wanted, but he wants an opportunity in the next few months to revisit and beef up the Pentagon budget.
SIEGEL: Scott, the White House has also talked about trying to clear the decks so that the president can focus on the rest of his agenda. Does this deal accomplish that?
HORSLEY: It could make September a little easier. Remember; heading into this month, lawmakers had a long to-do list. They had to raise the debt ceiling, pass a spending bill to keep the government's doors open, approve a budget, which is a precondition for Republicans if they want to overhaul the tax code. And it's possible with this agreement Trump can cross at least two of those items off his list by this weekend. So that would free him up to spend more time, as he did yesterday, barnstorming the country in support of tax cuts.
So he has cleared the decks temporarily. But remember; this is only a three-month deal. And so that means come early December, those decks are going to start getting crowded again. Lawmakers are going to have to take precious time at the end of the year when they would like to focus on, say, the tax overhaul. And once again, they're going to have to vote on government spending and the debt ceiling.
SIEGEL: And that would be another opportunity for Democrats to extract something in return, right?
HORSLEY: That's right. It's possible the Democrats will get something like the DREAM Act. And even if they don't extract a concession, Republicans would prefer not to have to cast a second vote on the debt ceiling before the midterm election. That's what they were trying to avoid with a longer-term deal.
Raising the debt ceiling is always a tough vote for the party in power. It is often seen by the public as if lawmakers are giving the government a blank check even though in fact they're just agreeing to honor the checks they've already written with their spending bills. The president was asked today if he'd like to do away with this chore once and for all. Here's what Trump had to say.
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TRUMP: For many years, people have been talking about getting rid of debt ceiling altogether. And there are a lot of good reasons to do that. So certainly that's something that will be discussed. We even discussed it at the meeting that we had yesterday.
HORSLEY: It's hard to imagine, though, that Republicans would actually do away with the requirement for a vote on the debt ceiling. It would just be too easy to paint that as an invitation to irresponsible spending even if that's not what it really is.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Scott Horsley at the White House. Scott, thanks.
HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.