Republicans want Trump to keep out of border talks

Republicans are urging President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment MORE to step back, for now, from the negotiations to prevent a second partial government shutdown.

The president is offering a running, real-time commentary about the conference committee tasked with breaking the months-long stalemate between the White House and congressional Democrats, frustrating lawmakers who worry Trump is complicating already difficult talks.

In a tweet on Thursday, Trump warned that Republicans on the panel might be “wasting their time.”

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He later added during a rollercoaster White House appearance before reporters that he “won’t even look” at a deal that didn’t including funding for his wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

GOP senators say Trump should stick to the sidelines and let the bipartisan group of appropriators, known for their ability to cut deals, get to work.

“I think it would be more worthwhile and effective if the president would allow some space for these negotiations to occur and not be doing commentary at this point,” said Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsDemocrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate Democrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate The Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates MORE (R-Maine).

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneNew push to regulate self-driving cars faces tough road Trump's border funding comes back from the dead Public policy expert: US has become 'outlier' on immigration practices MORE (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said he hoped Trump’s skepticism was “wrong” and that the president was just “trying to set expectations low.”

Asked if the president should give negotiators some space, Thune added: “I think it’s good to let them do their thing and see what they can come up with.”

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Klobuchar, Murkowski introduce legislation to protect consumer health data MORE (R-Alaska), asked about Trump’s belief that Republicans are wasting their time, said she was trying to “urge success” and that the conference committee should “be empowered to do their work.”

The 17 lawmakers negotiating a possible deal have their work cut out for them.

They have little time to reach an agreement, and must negotiate in the shadow of Trump and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOcasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment GOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown MORE (D-Calif.).

Those two political giants, who had several standoffs during the shutdown that ended last weekend, held dueling press outings on Thursday.

Pelosi put down Democratic goalposts for the negotiations, telling reporters that “there's not going to be any wall money in the legislation.” But she also signaled a new openness to “some infrastructure,” including new fencing or other barriers.

Trump said he would not accept a deal without money for his prized wall, accused Pelosi of “playing games” and jabbed at the conference committee, saying, “I don’t think they’re going to make a deal.”

Democrats have been wary of trying to negotiate with the president, arguing that he is not reliable. Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw US women's soccer team reignites equal pay push MORE (D-N.Y.), reviving a favored quotation, told reporters this week that trying to reach an agreement with Trump is like “negotiating with Jell-o.”

“When the president has stayed out of it, when the president has given Congress room, we have been repeatedly able to forge bipartisan agreements. ... When the president injects ... partisan demands, negotiations tends to fall apart,” Schumer said separately during a Senate floor speech.

The conference committee has until Feb. 15 to clinch a deal that resolves the border fight and funds a quarter of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The 17-member panel met for the first time Wednesday.

Absent an agreement, there could be a second partial government shutdown or Trump could declare a national emergency to build his wall — an option he has kept on the table despite fierce pushback from lawmakers.

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyGOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown GOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown On The Money: Pelosi says no debt ceiling hike until deal on spending caps | McConnell pressures White House to strike budget deal | Warren bill would wipe out billions in student debt | Senate passes IRS reform bill MORE (R-Ala.), a member of the conference committee and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said his goal was to reach a deal and that it would probably be easier if the task were left to the 17 lawmakers.  

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' Trump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' Overnight Health Care: Pelosi to change drug-pricing plan after complaints | 2020 Democrats to attend Planned Parenthood abortion forum | House holds first major 'Medicare for All' hearing MORE (R-Texas), a member of GOP leadership, added that “the Constitution commits appropriations to the Congress, and I think we ought to do our job.”

But senators acknowledged that whatever agreement they come up with, Trump will ultimately have to sign.

“There’s no question that their opinion matters,” Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) said of the White House.

Asked if it would be easier to get a deal if Trump wasn’t tweeting about the committee, Sen. John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenMcConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal McConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal Senators introduce bill to prevent border agency from selling personal data MORE (R-N.D.) said that “everybody’s going to continue to comment on this process. Everybody’s going to continue to put forward ideas. That’s how it works around here.”

Keeping Trump from continuously offering public commentary, some senators acknowledged, was a pipe dream.  

Kennedy mused that Trump was just “saying out loud what a lot of people on Capitol Hill are thinking — this may be a total waste of time.”

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterManchin eyes Senate exit Manchin eyes Senate exit Democrats hope some presidential candidates drop out — and run for Senate  MORE (D-Mont.), a member of the conference committee, started laughing when he was asked if Pelosi and Trump should give them room to negotiate.

“I would like to have them just leave it up to me. But I have a notion that they’re going to want to [weigh in] and I think that’s the way it needs to be. We need to figure out what their input is and work off of that,” Tester said.

Cornyn, asked if Trump should stop tweeting about the conference committee, quipped: “Oh I don’t think the president wants anybody’s advice.”