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“What’s our leverage?” Mr. Schumer said he kept asking himself. “We only had one thing as leverage at that point, which was the debt ceiling.”

From past experience, Mr. Schumer, like other congressional veterans, knew Republicans would have a difficult, if not impossible, task rounding up votes among themselves to increase the government’s borrowing authority because many conservatives simply won’t vote to do so, even at the expense of the nation’s fiscal stability.

“They can’t let the government default because so many of their conservatives won’t vote for it,” Mr. Schumer said.

In concert with Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, Mr. Schumer began formulating a plan to apply pressure, jettisoning the idea of backing a straightforward, or “clean,” debt limit measure and settling instead on the idea of a short-term three-month increase. They saw that model as a way to gain muscle in coming negotiations toward a more comprehensive year-end legislative package. With another debt limit deadline looming, Mr. Trump and Republican leaders would again need Democratic votes.

Then Hurricane Harvey landed, strengthening the Democratic negotiating position, because the necessary relief and recovery money for Texas and Louisiana would be a must-pass measure, and it could be combined with the debt limit proposal. Given the damage from that storm and the threat posed by others menacing the Atlantic Coast, Mr. Trump and House and Senate Republicans could hardly afford to either let the government shut down or default on its obligations.

This confluence of events — expiring government funding, the critical need to raise the debt limit, the passage of one hurricane and the approach of two others, and the availability of a workable Democratic alternative — persuaded Mr. Trump to side with the top two Democrats over the stunned leaders of his own party. Suddenly, Mr. Trump couldn’t get enough of Chuck and Nancy, his two new allies, despite his disparagement of both this year. The plan easily passed the House and the Senate, though many Republicans were disgruntled.

Whether the outbreak of bipartisanship represented a real turning point — “The president is sometimes, as you know, erratic,” Mr. Schumer said — remains to be tested. But Mr. Trump certainly put Mr. Schumer in the catbird seat for the coming talks. Republicans were so distressed that Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, took to the Senate floor to fume that Mr. Schumer had “just made himself the most powerful man in America for the month of December.” The comment was meant to admonish Republican leaders, but it had to be music to Mr. Schumer’s ears.

Mr. Schumer, who had hoped to be majority leader this year serving with a President Hillary Clinton, has had an up-and-down relationship with Mr. Trump. While the president has contributed to Mr. Schumer’s past campaigns, he has gone after him repeatedly this year on Twitter.

But the president has also shown an affinity for Mr. Schumer that has been denied his top Republican allies in Congress: Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, and Speaker Paul D. Ryan. Perhaps it is because he and Mr. Schumer are both products of the outer boroughs, Queens and Brooklyn, respectively.

“The one thing we have is we’re New Yorkers,” Mr. Schumer said. “We’re pretty direct, and we talk right at each other.”

One of those instances, Mr. Schumer said, came right after the election. “I said to President-elect Trump: ‘Look, we’re not going to obstruct you, just for the sake of obstruction. If you’ll work with us, as long as we can keep our values, we’ll work together.”

But Mr. Trump began his administration governing more from the right. Democrats were for the most part cut out of the major business of Capitol Hill, except for a previous spending package they negotiated with congressional Republicans, with Mr. Trump pushed to the sidelines in that case.

Mr. Schumer said he hoped the latest agreement represented a course correction by Mr. Trump.

“Maybe this was an aberration,” Mr. Schumer said. “But maybe they’re learning, either instinctively or intellectually, that just embracing the hard right isn’t going to get them very far.”

Mr. Trump certainly relished the news media coverage generated by the across-the-aisle engagement — a crucial marker with him — calling Mr. Schumer on Thursday to exult in it.

“I got a call early this morning,” Mr. Schumer said. “He said, ‘This was so great!’ Here’s what he said: ‘Do you watch Fox News?’ I said, ‘Not really.’ ‘They’re praising you!’ Meaning me. But he said, ‘And your stations’ — I guess meaning MSNBC and CNN — ‘are praising me! This is great!’”

Mr. Schumer said the president also showed a sincere soft spot for the Dreamers, reiterating in a second meeting with Mr. Schumer the “great sympathy he has for the Dreamer kids, that they are good Americans, they work hard and they don’t deserve to be kicked out of the country.”

“I said, ‘Well, you have to act on it,’” Mr. Schumer added.

Mr. Schumer said he and Mr. Trump had agreed to explore eliminating the debt limit increase as a legislative pressure point, allowing it to rise automatically in some way without a vote. Mr. Schumer admitted that such a move could deny Democrats future leverage.

“If it’s the right thing to do, I think we can do it,” said Mr. Schumer, who carefully noted that he would not be sacrificing any clout in the coming talks. “We’ll have leverage in this situation.”

Indeed. Some might say he is, for the moment, the most powerful man in America.

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