Trump's Attempt to Bypass Democratic Leaders on Wall Falls Flat

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s attempt to bypass Democratic congressional leaders to break open negotiations on the government shutdown fell flat as he failed to persuade any of the party’s rank-and-file members to attend a hastily arranged White House meeting Tuesday.

“Today, the president offered both Democrats and Republicans the chance to meet for lunch at the White House,” White House Secretary Sarah Sanders said. “Unfortunately, no Democrats will attend.”

Trump's Attempt to Bypass Democratic Leaders on Wall Falls Flat

Trump was seeking to begin peeling away some Democrats representing competitive districts from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The failed gambit underscored the distance between congressional Democrats and the president as the longest U.S. government shutdown in modern history stretched into its 25th day.

Democrats have held firm in their opposition to Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to start building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in return for signing legislation to fund the parts of government that have been closed since Dec. 22. Republicans, meanwhile, have refused to buck Trump.

After the Tuesday meeting, Republican lawmakers criticized Democrats for not attending.

“This is about coming to the table and having a discussion,” said Representative Susan Brooks of Indiana. “We absolutely don’t want this but we do know there are unprecedented numbers of people coming to the border.”

Apprehensions of migrants crossing the U.S. southern border increased in 2018 over the prior year but are no where near levels of the early 21st century, when more than a million people made the attempt in some years.

Among those who were invited to the White House lunch and declined are Florida’s Stephanie Murphy and California’s Lou Correa, who co-chair the moderate Blue Dog Coalition.

“The congressman was invited and will be declining the invitation. Congressman Correa welcomes the opportunity to talk with the president about border security, as soon as the government is reopened,” Correa spokesman Andrew Scibetta said.

Murphy declined due to a scheduling conflict, a spokesperson said.

Others who got invitations included freshman Democrats and members of the self-described bipartisan “Problem Solvers Caucus,” according to several lawmakers.

Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, a member of the House Democratic leadership, said no lawmakers were discouraged from attending. But he questioned Trump’s intentions.

“Is he inviting people to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to really try to resolve this problem or to create a photo op so he can project a false sense of bipartisanship?” Jeffries told reporters.

The White House sought to pull the meeting together at the last minute, according to one Democratic aide, who said invitations went out to various members Monday afternoon and evening.

After Democrats declined to attend, Sanders said Trump instead would have “a working lunch with House Republicans to solve the border crisis and reopen the government.” Nine Republicans confirmed they would participate.

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