Trump hosts meeting with empty chairs for Democrats after they refuse to attend

President Donald Trump, center speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump, center speaks in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Sitting between two empty seats reserved for missing Democratic leaders, President Donald Trump has said Democrats used to be “all talk, no action” and that now they’re “not even talk” after Senator Chuck Schumer and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi refused to show up for a meeting at the White House as Congress looks to avoid a government shutdown.

A dramatic day in Washington – filled with insults, no-shows, and movement on tax reform – Mr Trump suggested he did not see the White House being able to reach a deal with Mr Schumer and Ms Pelosi, the Democratic leaders of the Senate and House respectively, to avoid a shutdown after 8 December, when current stop-gap spending measures end.

The top Democrats quickly hit back, pulling out of their planned meeting at the White House with Mr Trump, and Republican Congressional Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Rather than participate in a “show meeting”, Mr Schumer and Ms Pelosi said in a joint statement, “we believe the best path forward is to continue negotiating with our Republican counterparts in Congress instead”.

Both Mr Ryan and Mr McConnell, who still attended the meeting, spoke ill of their Democratic counterparts’ decision.

Mr Ryan said he regretted that Ms Pelosi and Mr Schumer couldn’t join them. Mr McConnell also said he “can’t recall ever turning down” such a rendezvous at the White House. But the majority leader’s claim is not entirely accurate.

In 2010, House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer criticised Mr McConnell for saying he was too busy to accept a bipartisan meeting with President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders. A spokesperson for Mr McConnell said at the time that the White House made the mistake of announcing the meeting before checking to see if the leader was available for it.

Mr Trump used the meeting to suggest that he “would absolutely blame the Democrats” if there is a government shutdown next week.

“If it happens, it’s going to be over illegals pouring into the country, crime pouring into the country, no border wall, which everyone wants,” he added.

Ms Pelosi was quick to retort. She tweeted: “@realDonaldTrump now knows that his verbal abuse will no longer be tolerated. His empty chair photo opp showed he’s more interested in stunts than in addressing the needs of the American people. Poor Ryan and McConnell relegated to props. Sad!”

Mr Schumer’s and Ms Pelosi’s decision – and Mr Trump’s jabs in response – have increased the already high tensions between the President and top Democrats.

But just a few months ago, the President seemed close to crafting a productive relationship with members of his rival political party.

The last time he sat down with the top leaders, Mr Trump sided with Democrats on a plan to provide hurricane disaster relief – after a number of disasters in different states - increase the debt limit and fund the government until the beginning of December. That move went against the wishes of many Republicans.

However, it appears that Democrats may have a harder time getting what they want this time around.

Congressional leaders have yet to make a deal on funding levels, or an agreement on pricklier issues such as a legislative fix for Daca – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programme – to protect young, undocumented migrants who had been brought to the US as children.

Earlier this year, Mr Trump announced he was rescinding the Obama-era policy that has allowed nearly 800,000 so-called “Dreamers” – undocumented migrants that came that were brought to the US as children - to work and go to school without fear of deportation.

There was confusion in September over whether the President had made a deal with Democrats to permanently protect Dreamers and work out a package of border security, excluding Mr Trump’s oft-promised border wall.

Ms Pelosi and Mr Schumer said both sides agreed that the wall would not be part of this agreement – but that the President made clear he intends to pursue it at a later time.

Mr Trump has maintained that building a wall along the US’s southern border with Mexico will prevent illegal immigration, despite scepticism from experts and even members of his own party.

In August, Mr Trump threatened to shut down the government if Democrats did not give in to his demands to fund the barrier, which he originally said Mexico would pay for.

Another contentious issue for the two parties and the White House is the Republicans’ tax reform proposal, which the Senate’s budget committee passed on Tuesday in a 12-11 vote along party lines.

Later this week, the full Senate is expected to vote on the bill that would benefit the wealthiest Americans and Mr Trump.

While the Senate plan would be a windfall for the rich, it is anticipated to have mixed effects on medium and low-income families.

Before leaving Washington for Thanksgiving, multiple Republicans had expressed concerns about the legislation and its effects.

But this week it appears that sceptics are warming to the proposal – particularly after Mr Trump on Tuesday travelled to Capitol Hill, where he attended a lunch with Republican senators and answered their questions.

Republicans hold 52 seats in the 100-member Senate, and they can afford to lose no more than two of their members’ votes. Democrats are expected to remain united in their opposition to the bill.

In the event of a tie, Vice President Mike Pence would cast the deciding vote.