President leans into bipartisanship, but skepticism abounds

This week, President Donald has put more heft behind his hopeful rhetoric of a "different relationship" with Congress, discussing ways to move forward his legislative agenda with Democratic support and focusing on areas of agreement. The initiative follows last week's decision to support Democratic leaders' proposal to raise the debt ceiling for three months over the recommendations of Republicans.

But many wonder how effective his entreaties will be, as major pieces of legislation -- such as tax reform -- are only being crafted by Republican lawmakers.

On Tuesday night, welcomed an equally split group of six GOP and Democratic senators to the White House to discuss tax reform. He then greeted eight House Democrats and five House Republicans to do the same on Wednesday. And on Wednesday night, Democratic leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi -- who have criticized at every turn -- are joining the President for a private dinner at the White House.

"We should be able to come together to make government work for the people. That's why I was elected. That's why I ran," said as he sat down with the House members.

On that front, has offered indications he would support standalone legislation offering protections for young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children -- a priority for Democrats -- despite first signaling that it would need to be tied to border security measures.

And he even appeared to shift the goalposts on tax reform following his discussions with Democrats, signaling Wednesday that he was open to to proposals that would see the wealthiest Americans pay more.

Sudden turn?
Isolated, Trump embraces New York friends -- and instincts

Isolated, Trump embraces New York friends -- and instincts

But 's sudden turn toward bipartisanship comes after the first eight months of his presidency were defined by bitter squabbles with Democrats and a near-singular focus on policies aimed at pleasing his political base.

It also occurs after months-long discussions with congressional Republican leaders on tax reform. Key Democrats, such as Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, had yet to get a call from .

Wyden pointed to the "irony" in that silence, given he has co-authored two bipartisan tax bills. While he said he hoped was serious about a bipartisan push, he said an "awful lot of time has been frittered away" by not bringing Democrats into the fold earlier.

On that front, has so far focused on courting moderate Democrats from states he won in 2016, far fewer than he would need to overcome the 60-vote hurdle to pass bipartisan tax reform.

The twist has left both Democrats and Republicans scratching their heads, unsure of the President's intentions.

"I don't think anyone on any side of the aisle can have any level of confidence on what to expect from the President," a Democratic leadership aide told CNN, noting that is "quite impulsive."

A Republican leadership aide echoed the sentiment, pointing to 's seemingly spur-of-the-moment decision last week to side with Democrats -- over the objections of Republican leaders and his own Treasury secretary -- on a three-month deal that was widely panned by Capitol Hill Republicans.

While Republicans are still trying to divine the motives behind 's outreach, many are not altogether surprised given 's campaign promises to cut deals once he got to Washington -- and to compromise.

"It's ," the Republican leadership aide said. "He was never really bound to one party or another."

Democrats haven't had a seat at the table on tax reform as Republicans prepared to pass their proposals on a party-line basis, using the budget reconciliation process. Now, the White House is signaling a preference for a bipartisan deal.

"The President has been clear that his preference is to get tax reform done on a bipartisan basis," White House legislative affairs director Marc Short said Tuesday.

Republican support in the Senate was "not reliable" amid the Obamacare repeal debacle, prompting to pursue Democrats, Short said. Those comments came despite White House officials promising for weeks the GOP-only budget reconciliation process would be the vehicle for tax reform.

'Why is he doing that?'

Trump to dine with Schumer and Pelosi, talk DACA

Some Republicans said they have only themselves to blame for the party's divisions and therefore they are understanding that may see more of an opportunity to cut deals with Democrats now. Several Republican congressmen pointed to the Senate's failure to deliver the President enough votes to repeal Obamacare.

"Why is he doing that? Because he got rolled on Obamacare. We didn't come through with anything," said Rep. David Brat, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur of New Jersey said he didn't fault for cutting a deal with Democrats.

"I think he sent a strong message to Congress, 'Get things done or I'll work with other people,' " MacArthur said.

Republican Sen. John Thune, who attended the bipartisan dinner on Tuesday night, echoed that sentiment and said Senate Republicans' failure to deliver the votes on health care reform is now shaping Republicans' thinking.

"We have to get our act up here. We need to be able to deliver the votes," Thune said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."

While skepticism about the President's commitment to a bipartisan path abounded in Washington on Wednesday, the Republicans and Democrats who attended the Tuesday night dinner seemed confident. They called the dinner meeting productive and substantive, signaling 's talk of bipartisanship might go beyond rhetoric and a three-month debt and budget deal.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, the North Dakota Democrat whose state overwhelmingly voted from in 2016, even said the White House dinner "cemented" her decision to run for reelection in 2018, which she officially announced Wednesday.

"There is a real opportunity for those who want to find compromise in this country," Heitkamp said Wednesday on a local radio show.

The Democratic leaders heading to the White House on Wednesday night signaled other issues would animate their dinner with the President, but it was unclear whether might bring up tax reform himself.

Some Republicans have questioned whether has extended his hand toward Democrats not in the hopes of bipartisanship, but rather to increase the pressure on Republicans to deliver -- or risk more Democrat-aligned dealmaking.

wasn't prepared to tip his hand on Wednesday.

"We're going to give it a shot," said Wednesday of the bipartisan approach. "And if it works out, great. And if it doesn't work out great,

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