The top two Democrats in Congress have a Thursday meeting scheduled
Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer pulled out of their first planned meeting last week
The on-again, off-again meeting between President Donald Trump and the top two congressional Democrats is back on, ahead of a Friday deadline to avoid a government shutdown.
In a statement Monday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, said they would travel to the White House Thursday to meet with Trump and GOP Hill leaders to discuss the spate of year-end issues that need to be resolved.
“We’re glad the White House has reached out and asked for a second meeting. We hope the President will go into this meeting with an open mind, rather than deciding that an agreement can’t be reached beforehand,” the two Democrats said in a joint statement, referencing a tweet from Trump that blew up their last scheduled meeting when Trump said he doubted he could reach a deal with “Chuck and Nancy.”
That negative assessment from Trump caused Schumer and Pelosi to abruptly back out of the meeting, which was held without them. Photographers were invited in to take pictures of the empty chairs where they were supposed to sit.
Trump and lawmakers have a long to-do list before the end of the year, including wrapping up the GOP-led tax reform effort, reaching deals related to keeping the government funded into the new year, and possibly passing two health care bills that are tied to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which is part of the Senate-passed tax bill.
“We need to reach a budget agreement that equally boosts funds for our military and key priorities here at home including the opioid crisis, pension plans and rural infrastructure,” Schumer and Pelosi said in their statement. “We have to provide funding for community health centers and (the Children’s Health Insurance Program), as well as relief for the millions of Americans still reeling from natural disasters. And we must also come together on a bipartisan deal to pass the DREAM Act along with tough border security measures. There is a bipartisan path forward on all of these items.”
They added, “As negotiations with our Republican counterparts continue, we are hopeful the President will be open to an agreement to address the urgent needs of the American people and keep government open.”
In a TV interview Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – still ecstatic by the Senate’s narrow passage of tax reform early Saturday morning – dismissed the notion that the government might shutdown in the next few weeks over disagreements with Democrats.
“It’s just not going to happen,” the Kentucky Republican told ABC News.
McConnell, aides say, is reluctant to permit a shutdown on his watch. A destructive shutdown could raise doubts in the minds of voters about GOP stewardship of Congress and steal positive attention from tax reform, which still has significant hurdles left before Republican leaders hope to send to the President by Christmas.
The GOP-led Congress is expected to pass by Friday a two-week funding bill to keep the government operating through December 22, the Friday before Christmas.
Passage of a short-term bill will give “the House and Senate time to complete their work on a long-term solution,” McConnell said in floor remarks Monday.
If they do, they would likely pass another stopgap bill until early next year, which would give lawmakers time to draft the agreement into legislative text so it can be formally adopted. That bill, aides say, likely would keep the government running through September 30, 2018.
“Nobody should want to see a government shutdown,” Schumer said on the floor Monday, adding that only Trump has suggested, in a tweet, that a government shutdown might be a good way to fix Washington.
Democrats, while in the minority, still have substantial leverage in the talks. That’s because some conservative Republicans in the House may vote against a spending deal, forcing GOP leaders to rely on Democrats to pass it. The same is true in the Senate where 60 votes would be needed for passage. That means Republicans would need the support of at least eight Democrats to get it approved.
But Democrats know they can’t overreach. They could suffer the wrath of voters if they overplay their hand and get blamed for an unnecessary government closure.
Democrats and Republicans remain at loggerheads over two key issues, which if resolved, could lead to a broad year-end deal.
The first point of contention is how to raise mandatory budget caps on funding for defense and domestic programs. Republicans are anxious to raise defense spending but Democrats insist that in return domestic programs must get an equal boost.
They are also at odds about what to do about DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – the Obama-era program that allows children brought to the US illegally to stay in the country. While there is a bipartisan push to resolve the emotionally-charged issued, many Republicans insist any DACA legislation also include robust new border security funding.
“The negotiations are continuing,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, perhaps the Senate’s most vocal advocate for allowing the DACA participants, commonly known as Dreamers, to stay in the US. “We want to make sure we’re setting the stage for getting this done in December before we leave.”
But top Republicans want to push off action on DACA until early next year, because Trump gave Congress until March to act.
“I don’t think the Democrats would be very smart to say they want to shut down the government over a non-emergency that we can address anytime between now and March,” McConnell said in the interview. “That’s a very untenable position.”
This story has been updated and will continue to update with additional developments.