By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic leaders in Congress skipped a meeting with President Donald Trump on Tuesday that was to have focused on the budget, raising the risk of a government shutdown next month with both sides far apart on the terms of an agreement.
After Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi informed Trump they would not attend the meeting at the White House, the president and Republican congressional leaders went ahead with the talks without them.
Trump left empty seats on either side of him, with name cards for Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, and Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives. He also criticized them as the cameras rolled during a picture-taking session.
“We have a lot of differences,” Trump said. “So they’ve decided not to show up. They’ve been all talk and they’ve been no action and now it’s even worse. Now it’s not even talk.”
Schumer and Pelosi said they pulled out of the meeting because of a tweet Trump sent earlier in the day attacking them as weak on illegal immigration and bent on raising taxes.
“I don’t see a deal!” the Republican president wrote on Twitter.
Pelosi tweeted after Trump’s White House session that “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!” she added, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan,
Trump said he would “absolutely blame the Democrats” if a government shutdown takes place.
A Dec. 8 deadline is looming for passing a spending measure needed to fund a wide range of federal government programs.Although Republicans control both chambers of the U.S. Congress, their leaders will likely need to rely on at least some Democratic votes to pass the measure.
Democrats have said they will demand help for the “Dreamers” – young people brought to the United States illegally as children – as part of their price for providing votes on the budget measure.
But Trump said in a tweet late on Tuesday: “I ran on stopping illegal immigration and won big. They can’t now threaten a shutdown to get their demands.”
Congress has three choices: approve a massive bill for more than $1 trillion to keep the government operating through Sept. 30, 2018; pass a shorter extension of current funding to buy more time; or fail to pass anything and risk a partial government shutdown.
On Capitol Hill, Schumer said he and Pelosi believed the best path forward would be to negotiate with Republican leaders in Congress instead of going to the White House for a “show meeting.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Peter Cooney)