The top two Democrats in Congress abruptly canceled a meeting with President Trump on Tuesday, saying he’s no longer a viable negotiating partner but rather a “destructive force” in trying to strike an end-of-year spending deal.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi complained about a morning tweet from Mr. Trump who said Democrats’ demands were so high that it could put a deal out of reach.
“It’s time to stop tweeting and start leading,” Mr. Schumer said, insisting that congressional negotiators had been “close” to a deal Tuesday morning until Mr. Trump’s Twitter post derailed things.
Ditching a bipartisan meeting at the White House was a stunning move that seemed designed to drive an even deeper wedge within a GOP already riven with tensions between pro-Trump forces on the one side, and those aligned with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the other.
But Republicans were united Tuesday, with the two GOP leaders rejecting Democrats’ move as a stunt, and saying they would show up at the White House for the meeting no matter what.
Mr. McConnell said he’d never refused a bipartisan meeting with President Obama no matter what the disagreements, and said the Democrats’ decision showed a “lack of seriousness.”
“You’ll have to ask them why they think it’s appropriate to refuse to meet with the president of the United States over something as significant as how we’re going to fund the troops and all the other needs,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters.
Congress is rushing a number of deadlines. Funding for basic government operations must be passed by Dec. 8, and states will soon begin to lose money under the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Meanwhile Democrats have set a self-imposed end-of-year deadline to grant illegal immigrant Dreamers full citizenship rights, while Mr. Trump says he wants to see funding for his border wall and other immigration restrictions.
Mr. Trump took to Twitter earlier Tuesday to preview the scheduled meeting, saying Democrats weren’t cooperating on any of those issues.
“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!” Mr. Trump wrote.
Those accusations angered Democrats, who while holding a long checklist of things they want to see get done, insisted they’re willing to negotiate.
“We’re willing to work with them, but they have to do it in a bipartisan way,” Mr. Schumer said.
He did not provide details on his assertion that congressional negotiators were “close” to a deal, and indeed he quickly rejected the GOP’s plans to couple a short-term spending bill with a rescue package for Obamacare customers struggling with higher insurance premiums.
He said that rescue package, which Democrats had sought for months, is no longer good enough because Republicans are now trying to overturn other parts of Obamacare in the tax-cut bill.
Unless Congress can agree to new funding by Dec. 8, the government would go into another partial shutdown.
The last one, in 2013, lasted more than two weeks and saw some high-profile disruptions, including the Obama administration shutting down the open-air monuments on the National Mall.
In that previous go-around the GOP controlled just one third of the political levers, yet polling showed Republicans took the blame. Now in control of all three levers, the GOP will suffer even more from a shutdown, Democrats said.
“They know, with them in charge, a shutdown falls on their backs,” Mr. Schumer said.
The White House called Democrats decision to skip the meeting “disappointing,” but said Mr. Trump hoped they would reconsider.
“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. These issues are too important,” said press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.