Obama gives Dems marching orders

President Obama put Republicans on notice Wednesday that he will reject any fiscal deal that only spares the Pentagon from budget cuts.

Seeking party unity, Obama met with congressional Democrats in both chambers to prepare them for the budget battle that will greet them in the fall.

His message was unequivocal: no negotiating with Republicans on a debt-ceiling increase and no reductions in the sequester cuts to defense unless domestic programs are spared as well.

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“He’s not going to accept sequestration restoration for the military any greater than in domestic. He’s not going to negotiate on the debt ceiling,” Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — GOP centrists in striking distance of immigration vote Schumer: Trump should take Kim Jong Un off 'trip coin' Overnight Finance: Trump signs repeal of auto-loan policy | Justices uphold contracts that bar employee class-action suits | US, China trade war 'on hold' MORE (N.Y.), the third-ranking member of the Democratic leadership, told reporters after Senate Democrats met with Obama in a room off the Senate floor. 

The meetings took place shortly before White House chief of staff Denis McDonoughDenis Richard McDonoughEx-Obama chief of staff: Obama's Russia response was 'watered down' Former Obama officials launch advocacy group aimed at Trump's foreign policy Obama: Bannon, Breitbart shifted media narrative in 'powerful direction' MORE and deputy chief of staff Rob Nabors met with a group of Senate Republicans to discuss the possibility of a deficit-reduction deal later this year. 

Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSenate panel advances 6B defense policy bill McCain: Trump pardoning Jack Johnson 'closes a shameful chapter in our nation’s history' Trump pardons late boxing champion Jack Johnson MORE (Ariz.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse GOP sets three FBI interviews in Clinton probe Trump on collision course with Congress on ZTE The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — GOP centrists in striking distance of immigration vote MORE (S.C.), the leaders of the GOP group, want to relieve defense programs from tens of billions of dollars in cuts. 

But Obama made clear there’s no deal to be had unless Republicans agree to boost funding for other domestic programs that have fallen victim to the sequester’s ax. 

The president told Democrats that stimulating the economy should take priority over reducing the deficit. He argued that even as the federal deficit has dropped faster than projected, unemployment has remained stubbornly high. 

“Yes, acknowledge the role of public debt, but the public debt is coming down. What is not coming down as fast as we want is the unemployment,” said Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Robert Mueller's forgotten surveillance crime spree Clinton: White House slow-walking Russia sanctions MORE (D-Md.), the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Obama gave lawmakers a sneak preview of what he would talk about while he travels the country in the coming weeks.

“We talked about his message on the road, his whole ideas of jobs, education, a secure environment and implementing ObamaCare,” Mikulski added.

White House aides passed out cards inscribed with the president’s August message. Entitled “A Better Bargain for the Middle Class,” it touted a five-point plan for job creation, education, mortgage accessibility, retirement security and affordable healthcare. 

Democrats said there is broad support within their caucuses for the president’s tough negotiating approach. 

“We’re not giving in on the debt-limit issue,” Sen. Mark BegichMark Peter BegichPerez creates advisory team for DNC transition The future of the Arctic 2016’s battle for the Senate: A shifting map MORE (D-Alaska) said.

Obama’s entrenched position sets up a bruising budget fight when Congress returns to work in September. 

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell says he backs Mueller probe after classified briefing Overnight Finance: Trump signs Dodd-Frank rollback | Snubs key Dems at ceremony | Senate confirms banking regulator | Lawmakers lash out on Trump auto tariffs Senate Dems’ campaign chief ‘welcomes’ midterm support from Clintons MORE (Ky.) has worked hard this week to whip his colleagues to vote against the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill because its spending levels do not reflect the automatic cuts known as sequestration. 

House Republicans have crafted spending bills that restore funding to defense programs by making cuts to domestic programs. Obama made clear Wednesday those bills would face staunch Democratic resistance. 

House Republicans suffered a setback Wednesday when House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate Race for Republican Speaker rare chance to unify party for election Scalise allies upset over Ryan blindside on McCarthy endorsement MORE (R-Va.) pulled his chamber’s version of the transportation spending bill off the floor. 

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the outcome shows that the lower chamber is not willing to accept steep cuts to domestic programs to shore up defense. 

Rogers cautioned, however, that Congress is also unlikely to approve the higher spending levels advocated by the Senate. 

Raising the debt limit promises to be another nasty fight. Conservative Senate Republicans say they will not agree to extend the country’s borrowing authority unless Obama signs off on a plan putting the federal budget on a path to balance over the next decade. 

Obama rejected that demand in Wednesday’s meeting.  

Some Democrats said leaders should not postpone the budget showdown to the fall, when limited time is likely to force a round of intense brinkmanship. 

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerGiuliani: Trump asked White House lawyer to go to Russia briefings Top Intel Dems denounce presence of Trump lawyer at classified briefings White House lawyer’s presence at FBI meetings sets off alarm bells for Dems MORE (D-Va.) said Congress should skip its August recess. 

“We haven’t got a budget deal. We don’t have appropriations bills for the next fiscal year. We’ve got this crazy word called ‘sequestration,’ ” Warner said in an interview on MSNBC. “We ought to stay here and do our work.”

Lawmakers used the rare meeting with Obama to raise other issues.

Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenJudd Gregg: 'Medicare for all' means rationing for everyone The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by CVS Health - A pivotal day for House Republicans on immigration Overnight Defense: Senate confirms Haspel as CIA chief | Trump offers Kim 'protections' if he gives up nukes | Dem amendments target Trump military parade MORE (D-N.H.) suggested that Obama assign his vaunted political analytics team, which helped him win reelection in 2012, to solving the backlog of cases at the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to Democrats familiar with the meeting. Obama suggested she get in touch with his chief of staff. 

Sen. Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuLandrieu dynasty faces a pause in Louisiana Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Project Veritas at risk of losing fundraising license in New York, AG warns MORE (D-La.), who faces a difficult reelection next year, grilled Obama on his administration’s handling of permitting for the Keystone XL pipeline, according to senators who attended. 

Landrieu noted that more than 60 senators support the pipeline’s approval and asked why the administration hasn’t given it a green light yet. 

Obama remained noncommittal on the controversial pipeline and played down projections that it could have a dramatic effect on the economy.

“He was very careful about not telegraphing his decision,” Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate Dems to Mnuchin: Don't index capital gains to inflation EPA extends comment period on controversial science transparency rule House easily passes prison reform bill backed by Trump MORE (D-R.I.) said. “But he showed a healthy skepticism about the exaggerated economic arguments supporting it.”

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Abortion rights group plans M campaign to flip the House The federal judiciary needs more Latino judges Senate Dems to Mnuchin: Don't index capital gains to inflation MORE (D-Ore.) said Obama, anticipating the concerns of senators, raised the touchy subject of the National Security Agency’s surveillance of U.S. citizens. 

Obama emphasized that there have not been any instances of the spy agency abusing its power or intruding on privacy without justification. Offering an olive branch to his Senate critics, he proposed meeting with them to discuss the programs in detail.

— Mike Lillis and Erik Wasson contributed to this report.