President Donald Trump sometimes tries to charm others during negotiations, but often he prefers to fight.
Both strategies were on display Tuesday, as the president and Republican leaders, even while working to shepherd a tax overhaul through the Senate, turned their attention to a massive spending measure needed to avert a government shutdown next month — a measure that will require Democratic votes to pass.
Trump could have chosen to start negotiations with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer with the kind of charm offensive he laid on Xi Jinping during his recent trip to Asia. After meeting with the Chinese president, whose support he needs to address the North Korea threat, Trump declared him “more powerful” than Mao Zedong.
Instead, Trump chose a different path, lashing out at Democratic leaders and sending the country careening toward a year-end crisis.
Watch: What Winter Break? Trump Tweet Throws Shutdown Negotiations Into Chaos
Hours before he was slated to huddle with congressional leaders at the executive mansion to talk about the spending measure, Trump, in a single tweet, raised the odds of a government shutdown next month.
He used a post on Twitter to announce that his differences with “Chuck and Nancy” over immigration policy and other matters likely would prevent a shutdown-averting deal on the spending bill. His signature would be required to make that bill law.
“Problem is they want illegal immigrants flooding into our Country unchecked, are weak on Crime and want to substantially RAISE Taxes,” Trump wrote, adding: “I don’t see a deal!”
Since Trump struck a deal in September with Schumer and Pelosi to push spending questions to Dec. 8, even Republicans have said he handed them most of the leverage in the year-end talks. Among other things, Democrats want to use the spending bill to make permanent an immigration program created by an Obama-era executive order; Trump wants to kill it unless it is made part of an existing law.
As he sought to strip away some of the leverage he handed to Democrats nearly three months ago, Trump relied on what former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has described as a “street fighter” persona.
Democrats responded by sitting out the fight.
“Given that the President doesn’t see a deal between Democrats and the White House, we believe the best path forward is to continue negotiating with our Republican counterparts in Congress instead,” the Democratic leaders said in a statement, announcing they would skip Tuesday’s meeting at the White House.
The president kept it up later Tuesday, swiping at the same Democrats whose cooperation he’ll need to avert a government shutdown during the first year of his presidency.
Watch: Trump Criticizes Schumer and Pelosi for Skipping Meeting
After leaving the Capitol following a lunch session with Senate Republicans about their tax bill, Trump returned to the White House to talk spending. Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined him at a rectangular table in the Roosevelt Room, but on either side of the president, empty chairs called attention to the absence of the Democratic leaders.
That bit of imagery was meant to drive home his point that Pelosi and Schumer refused to negotiate in good faith and to counter the Democratic contention, as summarized by Schumer, that their absence was “about the president not being serious.”
Trump used his afternoon remarks — which replaced the daily White House press briefing — to jab again at Democrats, describing them as “weak” on issues like border security and crime and claiming that the minority congressional party is “all talk and no action.”
“They want high taxes, we want low taxes,” the 45th president said of Democrats. He and Ryan also attempted to use an early Wednesday morning North Korean missile launch to press Democrats to come to the table on the spending bill.
“We want our military funded and we want it funded now,” Trump said. “But right now, things have changed over the last two hours … because a missile was launched. I think that will have a huge effect on Schumer and Pelosi. … They should be calling immediately and saying, ‘We want to see you.’ But probably they won’t because nothing to them is important other than raising taxes.”
Ryan and McConnell joined Trump in criticizing Democrats. Before departing the Capitol for the drive down Pennsylvania Avenue, the Senate GOP leader claimed that he never declined a meeting invitation from Democratic President Barack Obama — even though he did just that when the 44th chief executive invited him to a 2010 bipartisan dinner session.
A softer side
While Trump chose to browbeat Democrats on Tuesday, his charming side was on display during his midday visit to the Hill.
He described his hour-long lunch meeting with Senate Republicans as a “lovefest” and a “phenomenal meeting.” He even told reporters he wished they could have been in the Capitol banquet room because it “was very, very special, the camraderie.”
Trump was there to give Senate Republicans a pep talk as they plod toward an expected floor vote on a tax overhaul plan.
Trump’s charm offensive with GOP senators is likely rooted in his high hopes for the tax measure, which he has made clear is the key that would unlock parts of his agenda, such as a massive infrastructure package and faster economic growth.
Republican senators “want to see it happen,” Trump said of the tax measure. “They want to see it happen not only for the Republican Party. I think, much more importantly, they want to see it happen for the country, because they know how important it is for us to compete and win.”
As changes to the tax bill are being made while an expected Thursday vote nears, the president predicted that methodical effort is “going to go better and better.”
McConnell acknowledged Tuesday he was still looking for 50 GOP senators who support the tax bill. Only when that 50th vote is locked down will the tax bill be brought to a vote, he said. Neither Trump nor the majority leader ventured to say the count will come anytime soon.
As for a deal on the spending measure, that could come relatively easily, some say, even after Trump’s “street fighter” bluster. That’s because the issues that both parties want in the measure “intertwine with each other,” said Steve Bell, a former senior aide on the Senate Budget and Appropriations committees.
Bell, who is now with the Bipartisan Policy Center, described a scenario in which the parties could trade things each wants for items desired by the other, such as the higher domestic spending desired by Democrats for the higher defense spending and enhanced border security budgets sought by the Republicans.
Both parties want to address the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, which needs to be reauthorized, and to allocate another round of disaster relief funding, Bell said, adding he thinks Trump and Republicans should be in a mood to deal with Democrats because the GOP likely would be blamed for a shutdown.
Republican Sen. Roy Blunt said Tuesday there is still time for congressional leaders to reach agreement on fiscal 2018 spending levels and pass an omnibus this year. “I think if the four leaders would just come up with a number it would make this process work,” Blunt said.
When asked if that meant President Donald Trump shouldn’t be involved in those talks, Blunt said, “I don’t think he shouldn’t be included. I think he doesn’t have to be included. I think it would have been fine if they had a meeting today and he had been included. But I think there’s another way that we used earlier this year to produced an equally acceptable result.”
Lindsey McPherson, Kellie Mejdrich and Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.