Inside the tweet that broke Trump’s day, again
The days of bipartisan dealmaking over plates of sesame crispy beef are over, for now at least, at the White House.
Nearly three months after Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi left a Chinese food dinner at the White House gloating about an immigration deal, the Democratic leaders on Tuesday abruptly canceled a follow-up sit-down in response to a tweet warning that President Donald Trump was more interested in playing to his base than playing ball.
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“Meeting with ‘Chuck and Nancy’ today about keeping government open and working,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “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!”
Schumer and Pelosi’s response to the tweet — immediately pulling out of the meeting — was intended as a showy attempt at leveraging the Democratic votes the White House needs to keep the government open after Dec. 8. A year-end shutdown would further strain the frayed relationship between the White House and the Republican-led Congress.
And it was an example of Trump’s tweets — which chief of staff John Kelly has gone out of his way to note he does not seek to control — having an immediate impact on the legislative process and derailing a crucial meeting that had been weeks in the making.
Senior White House officials defended Trump’s Tuesday tweet, arguing that it was the president’s strategic attempt to reassure immigration hawks that this time, Democrats weren’t going to stroll in and extract promises from Trump without making some painful concessions themselves.
Others saw it as a potential overcorrection for a president who needs the support of Democrats in Congress to stave off a government shutdown.
“Donald Trump wasn’t just elected because of what he said to his base,” said Stu Loeser, a former Schumer aide. “He was also elected because he said he was a dealmaker who could fix Washington. Sitting alone at the table today, he looks like the emperor who can’t close.”
White House officials, however, insisted that the president had won a game of chicken by prompting the Democrats to bail at the last minute — and that their absence at the planned meeting made them look like they were the ones obstructing negotiations.
In September, Schumer and Pelosi left their Chinese dinner buoyed by a presidential promise to sign into law President Barack Obama’s program giving some young undocumented immigrants work permits, with no insistence on building a border wall.
But that verbal agreement infuriated conservatives, threatened to alienate Trump’s base, and forced administration officials to assure Republican leadership that the president had not, in fact, unilaterally agreed to a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals fix without extracting any concessions in return.
One senior White House official characterized the president’s Tuesday tweet and comments on immigration as “a way to get ahead in messaging on what’s going to be a really difficult negotiation,” given that Democrats are “intransigent about a whole range of non-negotiable things.”
Trump highlighted the Democrats’ absence with an impromptu afternoon photo op in the Roosevelt Room, where he was flanked by two empty leather chairs. “Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi did not show up for our meeting today,” Trump said. “I’m not really that surprised. … They’re weak on illegal immigration. They want the illegal folks to come pouring into our border.”