President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet with “Chuck and Nancy” — Democratic leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer — on Tuesday, in a meeting that could either stave off government shutdown or end in a total political meltdown.
Congress is staring down another partial government shutdown deadline on December 21, and the hang-up is over Trump’s southern border wall; Trump wants $5 billion in dedicated wall funding, and Democrats don’t want to budge on the $1.3 billion currently being allocated for border security funding.
If this feels familiar, it’s because we’ve been here before. It usually ends in some funding for border security that both Republicans and Democrats can declare as a victory and some angry Trump tweets about criminal immigrants. The government has shut down twice under Trump — once because Democrats wanted to force a larger Senate debate on immigration (that went nowhere) and once because Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was mad about government spending.
It’s hard to know how this meeting will turn out. Trump, Pelosi, and Schumer have had a lot of ups and downs. Just over a year ago, Trump sat down with the two Democratic leaders and struck a deal to raise the debt ceiling and pass a disaster relief spending package after Hurricane Harvey, even bypassing Republican leadership. But the trio haven’t been able to find common ground since.
The last time they all got together for dinner to broker a deal on immigration policy ended in all-out partisan warfare. And a bipartisan roundtable on gun control and tax reform went nowhere. Democratic lawmakers have grown weary of dealing with Trump altogether.
Outside of the makings of a sitcom — the tales of the tumultuous love-hate relationship between hardline Republican The Donald and his fellow “coastal elites,” Democrats Chuck and Nancy — the negotiations between the president and the Democratic leaders will likely define the next two years of Trump’s Washington.
Will there be another dealmaking session over Chinese food between Trump, Chuck, and Nancy? Tune in to find out.
Trump likes the occasional show of bipartisanship
There are times when Trump likes the attention from Democrats and basks in the glowing remarks that paint him as the ultimate dealmaker:
1) The 2017 debt ceiling-Harvey relief deal: Much to the ire of Republican lawmakers, in August 2017, Schumer and Pelosi went to the White House and hashed out a disaster relief package paired with a short-term debt ceiling raise. It was the first time in Trump’s presidency that he’d directly negotiated with Democrats, and after months of highly partisan — and failed — negotiations over a Republican Obamacare repeal bill, the deal was seen as a possible new chapter for Trump.
2) The DACA/border security deal that never was: In the weeks after the Trump administration announced it would sunset protections for young undocumented immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Pelosi, Schumer, Trump, and other White House officials sat down over Chinese food to talk immigration. Democrats offered a border security package — not including funding for the wall — in exchange for enshrining DACA into a law.
After the meeting, the White House called it a “constructive working dinner.” Democrats said Trump agreed to the deal. In the following days, Trump signaled that he was open to Democrats’ proposal while his staff tried to downplay negotiations behind the scenes. It’s not clear what actually happened — but no deal came out of it in the end.
3) The televised bipartisan White House immigration roundtable: By January 2018, with DACA still unsolved, Trump called Democrat and Republican lawmakers to the White House for a televised meeting on immigration. In the extended policy negotiation, Trump appeared to agree to almost everything presented to him — even if it came from Democrats. At one point in the meeting, Trump seemed so amenable to Democratic demands that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy had to jump in and remind Trump of the Republican position on DACA: that any agreement needs to come with substantial border security.
Trump ended the meeting with a nod to the reporters in the room: “I hope we gave you enough material. This should cover you for about two weeks,” he said. CNN’s Dana Bash went so far as to call Trump’s showing “the presidency that many people thought Donald Trump was capable of.” Fox News’s Martha MacCallum called the discussion thoughtful and “policy-proficient.”
Nothing came out of it.
4) The televised bipartisan White House gun control roundtable: Seemingly happy with the press he got from the immigration roundtable, a month later, Trump held another one about gun control. It was late February 2018, in the wake of the deadly shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. Trump repeatedly veered into uncomfortable territory for Republicans and at times broke with his party altogether, reiterating support for policies many in his conservative base have taken issue with. He even said Republicans in the room were “scared of the NRA,” the national gun lobby.
The larger gun control debate in Congress largely fizzled out; however, they did pass some new laws to improve criminal background checks and allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence.
This chumminess often falls apart
Democrats aren’t expecting much to come from Pelosi and Schumer’s meeting with Trump Tuesday.
They’ve been burned more times than not — and immigration has proved time and time again to be an impossible territory with Trump. Trump has publicly supported compromise immigration legislation, only to have his administration derail every bipartisan proposal put forward.
And the border wall continues to be a highly controversial subject for Democrats. At the height of the DACA negotiations, Schumer reportedly offered Trump $25 billion in exchange for the DREAM Act. Trump rejected the offer — and now Schumer says he’s not willing to go that far again.
It’s not clear what will happen. But as Pelosi stands poised to take over House leadership in January and Republicans maintain a slim majority in the Senate, Tuesday will be an early show of what’s ahead for a split government.
It’s either going to be two years of total stalemate or some grand bargains.
Clarification: Democrats intend to offer Trump $1.3 billion for border security. This article previously stated that Democrats would not budge from $1.6 billion — a number that was agreed to in the Senate spending bill. The offer was reduced after it became clear that $1.6 billion would have a difficult time passing the House, where Democrats see it as too high and Republicans think it’s too low.