The Senate’s top Democrat and White House aides on Monday offered contrasting assessments of President Donald Trump’s involvement in talks to end a government shutdown.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, while announcing his Democratic caucus would vote on a three-week stopgap agreed to by Senate GOP leaders along with a vow to hold a floor debate on the DACA program and other immigration measures in coming weeks, described Trump as uninvolved over the weekend.
According to the New York senator, it was a group of 20 Republican and Democratic senators, along with he and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who came up with the possible path ahead. (It must also clear the House.)
Watch: Schumer Warns GOP Has 17 Days to Reach Deal on DACA
“Since our meeting in the Oval Office on Friday, the president and I have not spoken, and the White House refused to engage in negotiations over the weekend,” Schumer said in a quiet chamber. “The great deal-making president sat on the sidelines.
“Despite and because of this frustration, I’ve been having conversations with the Republican leader over the weekend about a path forward,” he said, noting there were offers and counteroffers bandied about. “We will vote today to re-open the government.”
Shortly after, the Senate voted to cut off debate on the funding measure, 81-18.
Hours earlier, however, Trump’s top spokeswoman denied such descriptions of the president’s involvement.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee told a group of reporters outside the White House Monday morning that other than tweeting, Trump has been hunkered down in the White House since before the government shutdown started. His top spokeswoman says he is “managing the shutdown” and trying to convince lawmakers to “do the right thing.”
Even during rocky moments for his presidency, the president often is eager to take reporters’ questions. He has not done so since a Thursday appearance at an equipment plant in Pennsylvania, staying out of public view — except via photographs the White House released over the weekend — with the government shuttered.
Working the Weekend: Highlights from the Shutdown Floor Debate
She described the president as eager to oversee the shutdown and minimize its effects, criticizing the Obama administration for the way the 2013 shutdown went down.
Sanders also finally made clear the White House wants the Senate to pass the three-week continuing resolution that the chamber cut off debate on Monday afternoon. .
“We’ve been very clear that we want to reopen the government [and] we certainly hope that Democrats will stop playing games and reopen the government so we can start having the conversation they say they desperately want to have [on DACA],” she said.
Some Democrats are just fine with Trump taking a backseat.
“That’s how we got here: President Trump very famously in a vulgar exchange more than ten days ago now rejected a strong bipartisan deal that would have moved us forward,” Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware told CNN on Monday. “If the President is not going to be constructive, we need him to stay out of this and let the Senate be the Senate and resolve it.”
The back-and-forth came after Schumer on Saturday told reporters, less than 24 hours after he thought he had a potential deal with Trump that might have kept the government open, said negotiating with Trump and his staff is like talking to Jell-O. He wondered aloud if there are any moderate voices inside the West Wing capable of telling Trump to take a compromise deal in the interests of the country.
Meanhile, Sanders called criticism from lawmakers of senior domestic policy adviser Stephen Miller a “desperate” attack on a top aide. She also defended the president for hunkering down out of public view since the government was shut down.
“I think that’s a sad and desperate attempt by a few people trying to tarnish a staffer. Look, Stephen’s not here to push his agenda, he’s here to push the president’s agenda, like everybody in this building,” she told a group of reporters.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a frequent golf partner of Trump, over the weekend said immigration talks are going nowhere if Miller continues as the White House’s chief negotiator. Miller is a former Senate staffer, and Graham said he has been “an outlier for years” on such issues.
“I'll just tell you, his view of immigration has never been in the mainstream of the Senate. And we're never going to get there as long as we embrace concepts that cannot possibly get 60 votes,” Graham said Sunday. “You know, Mr. Miller wants to restrict legal immigration at a time we have a worker shortage, we're a declining population, we need more legal immigration.”
Marc Short, White House legislative affairs director, on Sunday told reporters that “Stephen knows this issue better than anybody else in the White House. I think his counsel to the president and to Secretary Nielsen and General Kelly is enormously helpful.” (He was referring to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House chief of staff John Kelly.)
Niels Lesniewski and Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.