- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2017

(Correction: Senate Democratic Steering Committee Chairwoman Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota attended the reception. An earlier version of this story, citing a White House guest list, stated that she had not.)


President Trump threw a White House party for the Senate, but most Democrats couldn’t be bothered to attend.

In a sign of how difficult it could be for Mr. Trump to carry out his stated desire of working across party lines on his biggest priorities, 28 of 46 Senate Democrats snubbed an invitation to the White House on Tuesday night for a spring soiree of music and fellowship. Independent Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, a member of the Democrats’ leadership team, also was a no-show.

At least 44 of the Senate’s 52 Republicans attended the East Room reception, which was co-hosted by first lady Melania Trump and featured the U.S. Army Chorus and Marine Band.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer called it “an amazing opportunity to have a moment sort of free of politics and to enjoy some collegial moments with each other in the White House.”

But Assistant Minority Leader Patty Murray said she had “other plans.” The Washington Democrat became defensive when pressed about what plans outshine an invitation to the White House.

“Oh my gosh,” she said. “Many presidents have invited me to the White House many times for Easter parties and receptions, and I have declined.”

Ms. Murray was among four of the 11-member Senate Democratic leadership team to skip the dinner.

Other members of the Democratic leadership who didn’t attend included conference Vice Chairs Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia, and Mr. Sanders, who’s in charge of — wait for it — “outreach.”

An aide to Mr. Warner said he was having dinner with Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson at Cafe Milano, an Italian restaurant in Washington known as a wine-and-dine power hub for diplomats, politicians and lobbyists.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said he had dinner plans with his children, who were in Washington for a visit. He said he didn’t know why so many of his Democratic colleagues turned down the invitation from Mr. Trump.

“I can only speak for myself,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “I see my children little enough and knew they were going to be in town. Their trip was planned long ago, and that’s my priority.”

Asked whether he thought Democrats and the president could work together, he said: “I hope so.”

Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who attended the reception, said he didn’t want to read too much into the large number of Democratic senators who sent their regrets.

“I don’t know if it reflects anything,” he said. “I went every time I was invited by President Obama.”

Mr. Trump, whose inability to unite House Republicans on health care legislation last week has turned his attention more to Democrats, joked at the reception that he saw special friends in the audience — “I even have a couple of Democrats.”

He said he wanted to treat senators and their spouses to an evening of wonderful music from the Army and Marine ensembles. “And so here we are,” the president said. “And, shockingly, it’s semi-bipartisan.”

He singled out Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York in the audience. “I see Chuck — hello Chuck,” the president said. It was the first time they’d spoken in two months.

The president said he wants to work with both parties on another attempt at health care legislation as well as a big initiative on infrastructure spending and a military buildup.

“Hopefully it’ll start being bipartisan, because everybody really wants the same thing,” Mr. Trump said. “We want greatness for this country that we love.”

Still, most Senate Democrats skipped the opportunity for some bipartisan bonding. Asked whether the president was disappointed by the comfortable majority who didn’t show, Mr. Spicer replied, “I think we were excited to see the one-third that did.”

“He’s mentioned this a bunch of times that there used to be a time when you could sit down and share a meal together, and I think that what he’s been trying to do is bring groups back in, and at least have a conversation and get to that human side a little bit,” Mr. Spicer said.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, said he was “juggling” too many obligations, including his duties as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee probing the Russian meddling in the election and possible involvement of Trump campaign officials.

“I would have liked to go,” he said.

Mr. Wyden, who is the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee that handles health care and taxes, said he is ready to work with the White House, but its officials haven’t reached out on either of those issues.

He did go to the White House in early February when Mr. Trump invited him and Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, to a meeting on trade policy.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin did attend the reception and said he thought a “good number” of fellow Democrats were on hand.

“I’ve been at a lot of receptions at the White House that the Senate was invited to, and I think the numbers were comparable with what I’ve seen in the past,” said the Maryland Democrat.

He said that he didn’t think attendance at a reception was a good gauge for the amount of good will between Democrats and Mr. Trump.

“Receptions at the White House are always special occasions. They are a chance to get to know people, typically people you don’t know as well,” said Mr. Cardin. “I met a lot of the administration officials who were there and had a chance to talk with them. I think that’s good.”

Some Democrats who didn’t attend the event have shown a willingness to work with the new administration. For example, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, whose office said she had a scheduling conflict, visited the White House for a lunch in February with the president and attended two bill signings.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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