WASHINGTON ― Democratic leaders in Congress bailed on a meeting with President Donald Trump on Tuesday just hours before it was set to begin, saying it would only be a “show meeting that won’t result in an agreement” and that they would be better served negotiating with their Republican counterparts.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) were scheduled to go to the White House on Tuesday afternoon to negotiate a spending package to avert a government shutdown. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) were also set to attend the meeting with Trump.
But after Trump tweeted that he didn’t “see a deal” coming together as a result of the meeting with Democrats, Schumer and Pelosi said they would negotiate with McConnell and Ryan instead, without the president. They said they have requested a meeting with McConnell and Ryan for Tuesday afternoon.
“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. ... 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,” the Democratic leaders said in a joint statement.
They suggested the president couldn’t be trusted to operate in good faith to find an agreement and avert a shutdown.
“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,” Schumer and Pelosi said. “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.”
Their statement came after Trump tweeted about the scheduled meeting with Schumer and Pelosi, whom he called “Chuck and Nancy.”
“Meeting with ‘Chuck and Nancy’ today about keeping government open and working,” he tweeted. “Problem is they want illegal immigrants flooding into our Country unchecked, are weak on Crime and want to substantially RAISE Taxes. I don’t see a deal!”
McConnell and Ryan accused Schumer and Pelosi early Tuesday afternoon of making excuses to avoid meeting with Trump.
“We have important work to do, and Democratic leaders have continually found new excuses not to meet with the administration to discuss these issues,” they said in a statement. “Democrats are putting government operations, particularly resources for our men and women on the battlefield, at great risk by pulling these antics. There is a meeting at the White House this afternoon, and if Democrats want to reach an agreement, they will be there.”
“I never refused to go to a meeting that President Obama called, a bipartisan meeting,” McConnell said. “It never occurred to me that I could just say to President Obama, ‘I’m not showing up.’ That strikes me as a lack of seriousness about the matter before us.”
But as HuffPost reported in 2010, McConnell skipped a bipartisan meeting and intimate dinner with Obama. He instead went to an event ― including a dinner ― held by the conservative Federalist Society.
McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said the difference was that McConnell didn’t “turn down the meeting.”
“The WH announced a half-day meeting before checking with the participants to see if they were avail,” he said. Later in the month, congressional leaders met in the White House for a bipartisan gathering.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday’s meeting would go ahead as planned and that Democrats should attend.
“The president’s invitation to the Democrat leaders still stands and he encourages them to put aside their pettiness, stop the political grandstanding, show up and get to work,” she said in a statement.
Democrats have said they want protections for young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to be part of a package, and some have said they wouldn’t vote for a deal that left out those so-called Dreamers. Republicans control the House, Senate and White House, but cannot avert a shutdown on their own — in the past, they’ve relied on some Democratic votes to pass funding bills.
At the White House Tuesday afternoon, Trump, as well as McConnell and Ryan, spoke to the press. The White House left two empty chairs where the Democratic leaders would have been.
Trump again said he considered the Democrats “weak on crime” and “weak on illegal immigration,” adding that he was “not that surprised” they skipped the meeting.
In September, Pelosi and Schumer held a similar sit-down with Trump and Senate Republicans at the White House ― and they walked away with the upper hand. The president agreed to their demands on funding the government and raising the debt ceiling, over the objections of the GOP leaders and his own Treasury secretary.
A week later, after a dinner meeting with the president, the Democratic leaders said they had struck a deal with Trump on extending protections for young undocumented immigrants who were losing those same protections because of an action by the president. Trump later contradicted them, saying there was no deal.
Earlier this month in an interview with HuffPost, Schumer said that despite the president’s fickleness, he was still willing to work with him ― when there was a benefit to it.
“I am not going to obstruct Donald,” Schumer said. “Here’s been my motto since I started: Go by your values. I’m not going to obstruct him for its own sake, nor am I going to compromise for its own sake. If we can keep our values and get something done by working with him, fine. So far, he’s been so hard right it’s been impossible. If it changes, it’s welcome.”
This story has been updated with a statement from Republican congressional leaders and the White House, as well as more background information.