WASHINGTON – A group of moderate Democrats turned down the White House’s invitation to a luncheon Tuesday to discuss border security as the Trump administration sought to bypass House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and win support for border wall funding.
Pelosi and other Democratic leaders weren’t invited to meeting, but the speaker had given her colleagues permission to attend. None of them accepted the offer, however, and the meeting was scheduled to go on with only Republicans attending.
“The president looks forward to having a working lunch with House Republicans to solve the border crisis and reopen the government,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said. “It’s time for the Democrats to come to the table and make a deal.”
The meeting comes as negotiations between Democratic leaders and President Donald Trump have stalled as a partial government shutdown barrels through its 25th day. The shutdown was triggered by Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told other Democratic leaders during a meeting Monday night that they had no problem with rank-and-file members meeting with the president.
“They can see what we’ve been dealing with,” Pelosi joked to Hoyer. “And they’ll want to make a citizen’s arrest.”
On Tuesday, Hoyer laughed when asked about the White House extending the invitation to rank-and-file Democrats.
“Is anybody surprised that the president is trying to get votes wherever he can get votes…,” he said. But, “We are totally united. Totally.”
Democrats “support the notion of continued dialogue,” said New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
But Democratic members invited to the White House luncheon need to ask themselves whether the administration is truly looking to end the government shutdown or just stage a photo op, Jeffries said.
Rep. J. Luis Correa, D-Calif., was among the lawmakers who decided to skip the meeting.
“Congressman Correa welcomes the opportunity to talk with the president about border security, as soon as the government is reopened,” said Andrew Scibetta, Correa’s spokesman.
Republicans who attended the luncheon praised Trump for his efforts and criticized Democrats for declining his invitation to the White House.
“To govern is to compromise, and this president has been willing to do that,” said Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas.
Meanwhile, the House canceled a recess that had been planned for next week and will remain in session as lawmakers look for ways to reopen the government.
In the Senate, meanwhile, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accused Pelosi of acting being unreasonable in her refusal to acquiesce to Trump’s demand for border wall funding. Democrats have turned the border wall into “something evil,” he said.
A dozen bipartisan lawmakers met Monday night in the offices of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to talk through possible strategies for ending the shutdown.
“We haven’t set another meeting but we’re all talking,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.
While Democrats want to reopen the federal government before negotiating, Kaine said it’s a natural question for the White House to ask what’s their guarantee that Democrats will be serious about border security.
Asked whether Democrats would give Trump any money for the wall, Kaine said how the money will be used is an “important question,” and Democrats don’t want to use it for “a vanity project.” But he said Democrats would be comfortable using the money in a way that border security professionals recommend.
“That needs to be worked out, but I don’t think that’s insurmountable,” he said.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said there have been several bipartisan meetings in recent days looking for ways to end the shutdown amid growing concern about the toll it is taking on federal employees, particularly those who are living from paycheck to paycheck. Some 800,000 federal workers have been placed on unpaid leave or are working without pay during the shutdown.
“There are a number of people on both sides of the aisle who are sincerely trying to figure out a way out of this impasse,” Collins said. “It’s an ongoing process, but it becomes more urgent with each passing day.”
Collins said it’s difficult to see the talks going anywhere unless Trump and Pelosi are willing to compromise, and so far neither is budging.
Contributing; Eliza Collins, Deborah Berry
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