Don’t look for a quick deal when President Trump meets with Democratic leaders of Congress at the White House on Tuesday.
Neither side appears in the mood to offer concessions on a proposed border wall. Trump is pushing for $5 billion to fund one of his top priorities, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is under intense pressure not to give in just weeks after her party’s midterm victories. She also has the Speaker’s gavel on the line.
Trump, for his part, has plenty to stew over: He just saw his pick for the next White House chief of staff turn down the position, and investigations of the 2016 campaign came to his doorstep last week, with prosecutors implicating him in illegal payments to silence women alleging affairs.
“It could be really important; it’s likely not to be very important,” Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of the Senate Republican leadership, said ahead of Tuesday’s meeting.
That means another week of brinkmanship, with a possible partial government shutdown at the end of next week, is growing more likely.
“I hope there is some holiday spirit that prevails. It shouldn’t take a miracle, but it will definitely take some good luck,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.). “We’ve got our fingers crossed.”
Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Pelosi are scheduled to sit down with Trump at 11:30 a.m. to discuss a year-end spending package, and they aren’t inclined to cut the president any slack.
They will urge him to accept a long-term funding measure for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or for all of seven remaining spending bills, which cover about 25 percent of the federal government, according to a senior Democratic aide familiar with internal discussions leading up to Tuesday’s meeting.
Extending current funding levels for DHS would provide
$1.3 billion through Sept. 30 for border fencing and barriers.
Republican leaders on Monday predicted that Trump will reject the Democratic offer.
“I don’t expect the president would go along with that. He’s not getting the border funding that he wants and that just really postpones the pain, it doesn’t solve the problem,” said Senate Republican Whip John
He said Trump hasn’t shown any hint that he might be willing to budge from his $5 billion request, setting up a standoff that could last until funding expires on Dec. 21.
Cornyn said he would be willing to consider deportation protections for immigrants who came to the country illegally at a young age and lost such protections after Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
But Democratic leaders have dismissed the chances of swapping a key piece of immigration reform for border wall funding.
Democrats feel they have the upper hand after winning control of the House and seven governorships last month. They argue that Republicans will get the blame for a partial government shutdown since the GOP still controls Congress and the White House.
At the same time, Schumer and Pelosi have to worry about internal party politics.
More than a half-dozen Senate Democrats are mulling presidential bids, meaning any deal that lets Trump declare victory would be panned by those prominent members of the Democratic caucus.
Meanwhile, Pelosi has to focus on keeping her caucus unified behind her leadership, while she feels pressure from the left amid her bid for the Speaker’s gavel.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) on Monday said liberals in the House Democratic Caucus have effectively tied Pelosi’s hands.
“The president was willing to put a lot of things on the table to negotiate with Democrats in exchange for wall funding and they walked away,” Scalise told Fox News. “They said they don’t want to do anything because the extreme left doesn’t want to do anything. They want open borders. That’s the dilemma Nancy Pelosi is in right now.”
Trump is insisting on $5 billion for a border wall, down from the $25 billion he initially demanded. Democratic leaders, however, feel they have a solid argument, as Senate Republicans have already agreed to increase border security funding by $1.6 billion.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) has floated the possibility of spreading out $5 billion in border security over two years, but Trump has yet to endorse that proposal.
After two years of negotiating with Trump, Democratic leaders aren’t optimistic about striking a deal Tuesday that will stick.
“Pelosi and Schumer thought they had a deal with the DREAM Act back in 2017, but then suddenly it evaporated,” Raskin said. “That is what everybody is afraid of happening [again].”
Democrats are dismissing the prospect of any immigration deal that would grant Trump border wall funding.
“As we’ve seen, the president’s a very poor negotiator on those issues,” Schumer told reporters last month after the midterm elections. “He makes agreements and he backs off, so we’re sort of dubious of sitting down with the president and making that kind of exchange again when twice he’s shaken hands and backed off.”
When asked last week if she would support some wall funding in exchange for a permanent solution on DACA, Pelosi said, “No.”
Republicans consider Schumer to be in a better position than Pelosi to reach a deal with Trump. They’re looking for an agreement that strikes a balance between the $1.6 billion Senate Democrats and Republicans negotiated in their Homeland Security appropriations bill and the $5 billion requested by Trump.
“What the president is saying is, ‘I want a deal.’ That’s why Schumer has a process in this,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Fox News on Sunday. “Now, Nancy Pelosi is in a different position. She’s having a battle to become Speaker.”
A group of House Democrats, worried that Schumer could undercut Pelosi by striking a weak deal with Trump, sent a letter to the Senate Democratic leader last month urging him to stay strong.
“Any appropriations for a border wall would have unequivocally deleterious economic, diplomatic and environmental effects on the region,” the group of 12 House Democrats wrote in a letter dated Nov. 28. “We believe the Democrats should oppose all funding for a physical wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who helped organize the letter, told The Hill that he could agree to $1.6 billion for border security as long as it didn’t go toward building a wall.
“Schumer has been saying a fence is not the same as a wall. But for some of us down there, a fence is a wall. That’s where he and I differ,” he said on Monday.
Pelosi told reporters last week that she views a border wall as “immoral, ineffective [and] expensive.”
Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said Trump will have to come off his $5 billion funding demand to avoid a partial shutdown.
“Democrats are ready to negotiate on how best to secure our border but, as we do so, we will always stand strong against the Trump administration’s cruel immigration policies,” she said in a statement.
Shelby, who met with Trump at the White House before Thanksgiving, said Trump will threaten to veto any bill that provides less than $5 billion.
Senate Republicans, who are looking at a tougher electoral map in 2020 than they had in 2018, worry they would take a political hit over a partial shutdown, and they’re trying to steer Trump away from a standoff.
GOP senators buttonholed Vice President Pence at a recent lunch meeting and warned him that a shutdown would be a political mistake.
Shelby said GOP leaders will schedule another meeting with Trump after he talks with Pelosi and Schumer.
Some House conservatives appear to be agitating for a shutdown.
“Why set your sights on $5 billion? I’d be asking for $25 billion, ” Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, told The Hill. “I hope [Trump] doesn’t cut a deal, unless it’s favorable to the American people. His credibility is on the line here.”
Some Republicans say their best leverage with Democrats is to threaten a medium-term funding resolution for the seven unfinished appropriations bills. If successful, that would crowd the 2019 House Democratic agenda at a time when they will be pushing other priorities like election reform and prescription drug legislation.
Pelosi and Schumer, they say, would have an incentive to increase funding for border security in order to secure funding increases for other federal departments and agencies before January, freeing up the 2019 schedule for other priorities.
“If I were the Democrats negotiating the end of this Congress, I wouldn’t want to start the next Congress any further behind than I had to be. So I think that’s the leverage,” said Blunt, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “I continue to think some DACA relief and border security is the way out of this for everybody.”