Conservatives have demanded budget cuts in exchange for any hike in the debt limit, and they were unhappy with a deal that combined more than $15 billion in disaster relief with the less palatable debt increase.
"Vote for the debt ceiling for me," Treasury chief Steven Mnuchin pleaded with Republicans on Friday at a closed-door meeting at the Capitol, according to several lawmakers. Yet Republicans questioned why they would cast a politically risky vote for Mnuchin, who has no strong ties to Congress and also happens to be a former Democratic donor. Mnuchin is a banker and former hedge fund manager.
"Ha. He's not one of my constituents," said Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, a former tea-party congressman from South Carolina, took a hard line against debt increases during his years in the House. He was booed when he stepped up to speak, though at least one lawmaker said the booing was largely good-natured.
Republicans were dumbfounded earlier this week when Trump agreed with Democratic leaders on a short-term deal to increase the debt ceiling as part of a larger package to provide emergency aid for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and fund the government through Dec. 8.
Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pa., described a surreal scene with Mnuchin and Mulvaney pressing Republicans to rally around the disaster-aid package. "It's kind of like, 'Where am I? What's going on here?'" Costello said. "If it wasn't so serious, it kind of would have been funny."
Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., said Mnuchin's presentation in particular was not well-received by GOP lawmakers. "It was intellectually close to dishonest in that he said, 'I understand you on the debt, I understand you on this, I feel your pain, but you've got to bail out the Treasury bill,'" Brat said.
"Everyone's moaning and groaning, like, 'You've got to be kidding me,'" Brat added. Mulvaney defended the deal and Trump. "It was absolutely the right thing to do," Mulvaney told reporters after speaking to the caucus. "The president is a results-driven person, and right now he wants to see results on Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and tax reform. He saw an opportunity to work with Democrats on this particular issue at this particular time."
The House backed the massive package on a 316-90 vote and sent it to Trump for his signature. All 90 votes in opposition came from Republicans.
Associated Press writers Erica Werner and Laurie Kellman contributed to this story.