President Trump and the two top congressional Democrats, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, meet at the White House today, with less than two weeks until a temporary government funding measure runs out.
Even with the risk of a partial government shutdown bumping up against Christmas, White House attention has largely been elsewhere and Democratic leaders are making it clear they don't intend to give the president a victory on funding for his signature border wall.
"Republicans still control the House, the Senate, and the White House, and they have the power to keep government open," Senate Minority Leader Schumer and House Minority Leader Pelosi said in a joint statement on the eve of the meeting with Trump. "This holiday season, the president knows full well that his wall proposal does not have the votes to pass the House and Senate, and should not be an obstacle to a bipartisan agreement."
For his part, Trump has been far less specific about his demands for border wall funding than he has been in past rounds of budget talks, in recently days leaving out specific dollar amounts (though the standing ask is $5 billion), and using the phrase "border security," which means more than just funding to build the wall.
"Congress must fully fund border security in the year-ending funding bill. We have to — we have to get this done," Trump said Friday in a speech at a law enforcement conference. "They're playing games. They're playing political games. I actually think the politics of what they're doing is very bad for them, but we're going to very soon find out. Maybe I'm not right, but usually I'm right."
Asked via email about White House expectations for the meeting, press secretary Sarah Sanders didn't respond. But the days of high expectations for White House summits leading to bipartisan breakthroughs seem to have passed.
A little more than a year ago Trump had a couple of meetings with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. He said he'd worked out a deal on immigration with "Chuck and Nancy," as he called them.
"I think something can happen," Trump told reporters. "We'll see what happens. But something will happen."
It didn't happen. The deal blew up without even an agreement on what the deal was. Looking beyond the short-term budget fight to the year ahead, both Trump and Pelosi, who is expected to become speaker when Democrats take control of the House, have talked about the potential for bipartisan compromise.
"Nancy Pelosi and I can work together and get a lot of things done," Trump said at his post-midterms press conference.
"We hope that we can work in a bipartisan way in that way," Pelosi said at her own press conference the same day last month.
Both see opportunity in legislation on infrastructure and prescription drug pricing.
But it's not all rainbows. Pelosi and Democrats are also talking about robust investigations of Trump and his administration. And Trump has said that would lead to a "warlike posture."
"Then at the end of two years, nothing is done," Trump predicted. "Now what's bad for them is being in the majority, I'm just going to blame them."
This leaves many questions. Are Democrats willing or able to compromise with Trump? Is Trump willing to deal? If he is, will congressional Republicans go along? And, given the way Trump has changed his mind in the midst of past negotiations, will anyone trust him?
Still allies of the president and Pelosi interviewed for this story say some limited compromise is possible.
"I think there's several positions the president has that frankly line up more traditionally with Democrats," said Marc Short, the former director of legislative affairs for the Trump administration. "The question I think that is yet to be determined is whether or not Democrats will give their leadership the flexibility to negotiate with the president."
He questioned whether Democrats will be willing to give Trump a win as he begins his re-election campaign in earnest.
"[Pelosi] is going to be, and I think Democrats in the House are going to be, concerned with proving that they can be trusted that they can govern, and if that involves having to make deals with Sen. McConnell or President Trump then I think they will do that because that is what they've been hired to do," said John Lawrence, a former chief of staff to Pelosi.
Short and Lawrence both see incentives for their party to get something done, while questioning whether those incentives exist for the other side.
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