Top congressional Democrats abruptly pulled out of a White House meeting on Tuesday after President Trump attacked them on Twitter.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said in a joint statement they would not be attending after the president tweeted, “I don’t see a deal!” hours before their scheduled meeting on ways to avoid a government shutdown. Instead, they say they’ve asked to meet with top Republicans in Congress.
“Given that the president doesn’t see a deal between Democrats and the White House, we believe the best path forward is to continue negotiating with our Republican counterparts in Congress instead,” their statement reads. “Rather than going to the White House for a show meeting that won’t result in an agreement, we’ve asked Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan to meet this afternoon. We don’t have any time to waste in addressing the issues that confront us, so we’re going to continue to negotiate with Republican leaders who may be interested in reaching a bipartisan agreement.”
“If the president, who already said earlier this year that ‘our country needs a good shutdown,’ isn’t interested in addressing the difficult year end agenda, we’ll work with those Republicans who are, as we did in April,” the statement continued. “We look forward to continuing to work in good faith, as we have been for the last month, with our Republican colleagues in Congress to do just that.”
Mr. Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to bad-mouth Capitol Hill’s top Democrats in advance of the afternoon meeting at the White House, casting doubt on the prospects for a quick agreement to avert a government shutdown at the end of next week.
Mr. Trump said that “Chuck and Nancy” favor “illegal immigrants flooding into our Country” and are weak on crime.
Washington faces a Dec. 8 deadline to pass a temporary spending bill to stave off a shutdown. It was hoped Tuesday afternoon’s meeting might lay a foundation to keep the government running and set a path for a year-end spending package to give both the Pentagon and domestic agencies relief from a budget freeze.
Mr. Trump is still seeking his first big legislative win in Congress, and his attack on Democrats came as his marquee tax bill faced turbulence as well. The White House and top GOP leaders have work to do to get theirin shape before a hoped-for vote later this week. Party deficit hawks pressed for a “backstop” mechanism to limit the risk of a spiral in the deficit, even as defenders of small business pressed for more generous treatment.
On a separate track from taxes is a multi-layered negotiation over several issues. Hoped-for increases for the Pentagon and domestic agencies are at the center, but a host of other issues are in the mix as well.
A temporary spending bill expires Dec. 8 and another is needed to prevent a government shutdown. Hurricane aid weighs in the balance and Democrats are pressing for legislative protections for immigrants known as “Dreamers,” even as conservative Republicans object to including the issue in the crush of year-end business.
There’s also increased urgency to find money for the children’s health program that serves more than 8 million low-income children. The program expired on Oct. 1, and states are continuing to use unspent funds. Arizona, California, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon and the District of Columbia are among those expected to deplete that money by late December or in January.
Democrats carry leverage into the talks, which have GOP conservatives on edge. GOP leaders appear wary of early-stage concessions that might disturb the mood of rank-and-file Republicans while the tax bill is in the balance.
Trump’s visit to the Capitol is his third in little more than a month. This time, he’ll try to make the sale to Senate Republicans on his signature tax bill. Among the holdouts are GOP Trump critics, including Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee — though GOP leaders are seeking to rope in straggling Republicans with a flurry of deal-cutting.
“There’s still some loose ends. We’re not quite there yet,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “But I think we’re going to get there, I really do.”
Mr. Trump’s sessions with big groups of Republicans tend to take the form of pep rallies, and when visiting a Senate GOP lunch last month Mr. Trump spent much of the time recalling the accomplishments of his administration.
Besides Pelosi and Schumer, the White House meeting later in the days includes Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Mr. Trump hasn’t engaged much with Pelosi and Schumer since a September meeting that produced an agreement on a short-term increase in the government’s debt limit and a temporary spending bill that is keeping the government’s doors open through Dec. 8.
Mr. Trump reveled in the bipartisan deal for a time and generated excitement among Democrats when he told then he would sign legislation to protect from deportation immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.
Mr. Trump in September reversed an executive order by former President Barack Obama that gave protections to these immigrants, many of whom have little or no connection to their home country. Shortly afterward, he told Pelosi and Schumer he would sign legislation protecting those immigrants, provided Democrats made concessions of their own on border security.
Since the president is such a wild card, neither Democrats nor Republicans were speculating much about what Tuesday’s meeting might produce.
“Hopefully, we can make progress on an agreement that covers those time-sensitive issues and keeps the government running and working for the American people,” Schumer said.