Schumer and Pelosi were hoping that House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would join them in thumbing their nose at the president, but to no avail: McConnell quickly replied that he’d still be meeting with Trump on Tuesday.
On the surface, Schumer and Pelosi’s move is a signal to restive Democrats that they won’t be treated as punching bags by the president and that they’ll hold firm on immigration, the issue that seems likeliest to determine whether the federal government will stay open beyond December 8, when funding expires. Democrats, along with a few Republicans, are demanding that any year-end spending bill includes legislation protecting immigrants who could be at risk for deportation following Trump’s decision to end the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Trump has said he wants a DACA deal, too, but he’s under intense pressure from conservatives angry at him for bending on the issue in a meeting with Schumer and Pelosi back in September. The president has since backed off the contours of an agreement that would trade enactment of the Dream Act for additional border-security measures; the White House earlier in the fall sent a list of demands that went far beyond what Democrats would be willing to accept, including Trump’s prized border wall and a reduction in legal immigration. There are other issues lawmakers hope to address in a year-end deal as well: Congress still needs to reauthorize the lapsed Children’s Health Insurance Program and decide whether to enact a bipartisan bill to shore up the Affordable Care Act’s insurance markets.
The odds of a shutdown have certainly increased in the last several weeks. After all, Trump did say back in the spring that the country “needs a good shutdown.” And although he did strike a spending deal with “Chuck and Nancy” in September, that brief kumbaya moment probably raised the likelihood of a subsequent confrontation. Trump is undoubtedly sensitive to the perception that he was rolled by the Democrats, and he has only grown more angry at their refusal to bow to his demands on health care and tax cuts.
Yet Schumer and Pelosi’s pitch to leave Trump out of this round of spending talks must be tempting for Ryan and McConnell. The four leaders largely ignored the White House in striking their own agreement in April, and Republicans on Capitol Hill have frequently chafed at Trump’s habit of using his Twitter feed to muddy delicate negotiations. But Ryan and McConnell don’t have much of a choice: They’ve hitched their sails to Trump, and they know that not only is the president’s signature constitutionally necessary (short of a veto override) for a bill to become law, but his support for an agreement drives more Republican votes in Congress than their own.