The great dealmaker in the White House has struck again.
President Donald Trump was scheduled to meet with congressional leadership from both parties Tuesday afternoon to discuss a spending bill, which Congress needs to pass by Dec. 8 to avoid running out of money and shutting down the government. In the spirit of bipartisanship, and also in the spirit of the GOP majority likely needing a few Democratic votes to pass a bill in both chambers, the meeting was an important step in negotiations.
Naturally, Trump decided to toss a grenade into the process with a poorly timed tweet early Tuesday morning:
Meeting with “Chuck and Nancy” today about keeping government open and working. 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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 28, 2017
Under some circumstances, opening a negotiation with “I don't see a deal, but let's sit down and talk about it” is not the worst tactic. But Trump opened not just with that line, but with falsehoods about the Pelosi-Schumer position on immigration reform and taxes to go along with it.
Pelosi and Schumer almost immediately announced they would not bother to come to the meeting, and who can blame them:
Rather than going to the White House for a show meeting that won't result in an agreement, we've asked Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan to meet this afternoon. We don't have any time to waste in addressing the issues that confront us, so we're going to continue to negotiate with Republican leaders who may be interested in reaching a bipartisan agreement. [...] We look forward to continuing to work in good faith, as we have been for the last month, with our Republican colleagues in Congress to do just that.
The White House released its own statement on the matter from press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders:
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.
“Put aside their pettiness” is a particularly nice touch, considering it was Trump's petty tweet that gave Pelosi and Schumer a reason to back out of the meeting in the first place.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) accused Democrats of making excuses:
Democrats are putting government operations, particularly resources for our men and women on the battlefield, at great risk by pulling these antics.
Ah, the old “Democrats hate the troops” gambit. Since military operations have not stopped or been much affected at all during previous shutdowns, this is not much of a threat.
And that points up the biggest flaw in Trump's thinking here: He has no leverage over Schumer and Pelosi. Thanks to the presence of a large number of hardcore conservatives in the GOP's House caucus who always vote against any bill that does not contain huge cuts, spending bills the past few years have needed Democratic votes to pass. Former Speaker John Boehner was run out of office in part because he angered conservatives by passing spending bills with Pelosi's help, and Ryan has come under fire from the base for doing the same thing.
On top of that, the GOP has a very ambitious agenda for the weeks leading up to the holiday break. There is very little time before lawmakers go home for a long vacation. Any disruptions to negotiations on any of these issues puts the passage of other legislation in danger.
As a businessman, Trump could always threaten to walk away from any deal he didn't like in order to extract more concessions from the other side. He seems to think he can do the same thing here.
But in this case, his party holds the White House and both houses of Congress. He can't shut out the Democrats, then blame them if some Republicans refuse to vote for a spending bill or a tax reform plan.
Well, he can. But with his historically low approval ratings, and with an even more unpopular Congress being in the hands of his party, it is not the Democrats whom the public will look to for fixes.