President Donald Trump claimed Saturday to be negotiating with Democratic leaders to end a partial government shutdown. But when he convened a lunch at the White House, he invited only Republican lawmakers and officials.
In fact, Trump broke bread in the executive mansion’s private residence with mostly immigration hardliners. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said again Saturday that any deal that would re-open the Justice, Homeland security, Agriculture, Interior and other departments will have to be negotiated by Trump and Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer.
Trump, who has uttered and tweeted thousands of false and inaccurate statements since taking office, claimed Saturday morning that he was “working hard” at the White House after canceling his planned trip to his South Florida resort for a holiday break. And he told his millions of followers, which was quickly picked up by cable news and other media outlets, that he was pursuing a bipartisan deal.
“I am in the White House, working hard. News reports concerning the Shutdown and Syria are mostly FAKE,” the president contended.
“We are negotiating with the Democrats on desperately needed Border Security (Gangs, Drugs, Human Trafficking & more),” the president wrote, adding ominously for the thousands of federal workers wondering about future paychecks: “but it could be a long stay.”
I am in the White House, working hard. News reports concerning the Shutdown and Syria are mostly FAKE. We are negotiating with the Democrats on desperately needed Border Security (Gangs, Drugs, Human Trafficking & more) but it could be a long stay. On Syria, we were originally...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2018
....going to be there for three months, and that was seven years ago - we never left. When I became President, ISIS was going wild. Now ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains. We’re coming home!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2018
About an hour later, Trump fired off this tweet, raising hopes that talks were progressing: “Will be having lunch in White House residence with large group concerning Border Security.”
Will be having lunch in White House residence with large group concerning Border Security.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 22, 2018
But the guest list featured nary a Democrat.
Vice President Mike Pence, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, White House policy adviser Jared Kushner, and White House legislative affairs chief Shahira Knight were at the lunch meeting, according to deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters.
The president, rather than hearing the views of anti-border wall Democrats who might be willing to give him money for a border fence, also invited a number of conservative immigration hardliners.
That list included House Freedom Caucus leaders Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio — both helped convince Trump to demand $5 billion for his wall project and to reject a Senate shutdown-averting stopgap that called for $1.3 billion for “fencing.”
Also in attendance was Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who this week made his views on the wall and coming shutdown clear in who this week made his views on the wall and coming shutdown clear on cable TV hits and Twitter:
“This is not about the wall for Democrats. It’s not even about immigration for Democrats. This is about denying @POTUS a win on a signature agenda item that he promised the American people,” he wrote.
Also on the list were Utah Sen. Mike Lee, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby of Alabama. Graham has urged the president to “dig in” on his wall plans before and Lee voted against an immigration bill pushed by the Trump White House, in part, because it would have offered citizenship to DACA recipients and increased the number of undocumented migrants eligible to be covered by that program.
Arizona GOP Rep. Andy Biggs also got an invitation. He has introduced legislation to fund Trump’s border wall project.
Walters did not respond to an inquiry about why no Democrats were invited to the lunch meeting.
A senior administration official said the hope is that the shutdown “only lasts for a few days” but that it could last longer.
In Congress, a rare Saturday session pretty much picked up where things left off Friday and ended with no visible.
Senate leaders reported no progress on talks between Senate Democrats and the White House. And Schumer in his opening remarks made clear that his position has not changed: “If you want to open the government, you must abandon the wall,” he addressed the president.
Schumer said staff-level talks will continue and that he and McConnell “will update the Senate on the status on those talks once progress has been made.”
Pence met with Schumer at the Capitol Saturday afternoon to try to negotiate a way out of the impasse and then separately with Shelby and McConnell but apparently didn’t make much progress.
“The president’s goal is to try to get enough money, as he explains to me, to secure the border. And he’s working around $5 billion. One way or the other,” Shelby said. “Meaning there are other funds he thinks he can get ... defense among others.”
Shelby said the Pence brought an offer to Schumer that included all seven of the remaining fiscal 2019 spending bills. “He brought an offer,” Shelby said, adding that “it’s for all of it.”
Schumer’s spokesman said, “The Vice President came in for a discussion and made an offer. Unfortunately, we’re still very far apart.”
The Senate adjourned a little more than three hours after convening and will next be in session two days after Christmas.
McConnell expressed optimism that a deal could still be reached in short order.
“I have on a red sweater this morning in the hopes that Christmas is not too far away from us, including the members of Congress,” he said.
Schumer said Democrats were ready to cut a deal as long as it is endorsed by all four principal congressional leaders — including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — and Trump says he will sign it.
McConnell said “the talks that count are between the Senate Democrats, whose votes we need, and the administration. So I’m pulling for them.”
In the House, Texas Republican Rep. Pete Sessions wasn’t waiting around for a deal and he said many of his colleagues weren’t, either.
Sessions, who was wheeling his suitcase through the Capitol on Saturday morning on his way to the airport, said he thought any deal that is reached would get passed in the House by unanimous consent, thereby avoiding the need for a roll call vote.
“If we do have a deal I’ll come back here immediately, but I think any deal that is cut now — if there is a deal — it will be by UC in the House and the Senate. We would not bring out members back.”
Jennifer Shutt and Paul Krawzak contributed to this reportWatch: What Really Happens During a Government Shutdown, Explained