WASHINGTON — Congress' top Democrats abruptly pulled out of a planned meeting with President Donald Trump on Tuesday after he declared he didn't "see a deal" ahead with them on taxes and federal spending, casting doubt on prospects for averting a government shutdown at the end of next week.
On Twitter just hours before the scheduled meeting at the White House, Trump also accused Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California of being soft on crime, taxes and illegal immigration.
Schumer and Pelosi rebuffed Trump's invitation and asked instead for immediate talks at the Capitol with top Republican leaders in Congress.
"Given that the president doesn't see a deal between Democrats and the White House, we believe the best path forward is to continue negotiating with our Republican counterparts in Congress instead," Schumer and Pelosi said in a statement. "Rather than going to the White House for a show meeting that won't result in an agreement, we've asked Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan to meet this afternoon."
That invitation was swiftly rejected by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, Trump on Tuesday made his third visit to the Capitol in little more than a month, trying to make the sale to Senate Republicans on his signature tax bill. In a boost for the measure, the Senate Budget Committee advanced the bill to the full Senate on a 12-11 vote.
Trump met at the White House with Ryan and McConnell, where he was upbeat about the prospects for the tax bill.
"We're in very good position," he said.
The president and Republican leaders criticized the absent Democrats, with Trump vowing to "absolutely blame the Democrats" if there's a government shutdown, even though Republicans control the White House and Congress.
On a shutdown, Trump said, "If it happens it's going to be over illegals pouring into the country, crime pouring into the country, no border wall, which everyone wants."
Two empty chairs were on either side of the president, with the names of Schumer and Pelosi.
Congress faces a Dec. 8 deadline to pass stopgap legislation to keep the government open and faces a slew of other unfinished legislation, including hurricane aid and funding for children's health.
It was hoped the White House meeting might lay a foundation to keep the government running and set a path for a year-end spending package to give both the Pentagon and domestic agencies relief from a budget freeze. A host of delicate issues, including treatment of immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children, were on the table.
But in his early morning Twitter attack, Trump upended the negotiations and signaled that he'll adopt a hard line.
"Meeting with 'Chuck and Nancy' today about keeping government open and working. Problem is they want illegal immigrants flooding into our Country unchecked, are weak on Crime and want to substantially RAISE Taxes. I don't see a deal!" Trump tweeted.
Now, the immediate question is whether negotiations can get back on track. And if not, what will Republicans do to seek to avert a shutdown?
The pending tax bill can advance without fear of a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, but Trump and congressional Republicans need Democratic help to advance this year's long-delayed round of spending bills. It's not just the threat of a Democratic filibuster in the Senate but the affirmative need for Democratic votes in both House and Senate to make up for GOP defections on the right.
A temporary spending bill expires Dec. 8 and another is needed to prevent a government shutdown. Hurricane aid weighs in the balance and Democrats are pressing for legislative protections for immigrants known as "Dreamers," even as conservative Republicans object to including the issue in the crush of year-end business.
There's also increased urgency to find money for the children's health program that serves more than 8 million low-income children. The program expired on Oct. 1, and states are continuing to use unspent funds. Arizona, California, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon and the District of Columbia are among those expected to deplete that money by late December or in January.
The leverage that Democrats carry has GOP conservatives on edge and they have been reluctant to make early-stage concessions that might foul the mood of rank-and-file Republicans while the tax bill is in the balance.
Trump hasn't engaged much with Pelosi and Schumer since a September meeting that produced an agreement on a short-term increase in the government's so-called debt limit and the temporary spending bill.
Trump reveled in the bipartisan deal for a time and generated excitement among Democrats when he told then he would sign legislation to protect from deportation immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.
Trump in September reversed an executive order by former President Barack Obama that gave protections to these immigrants, many of whom have little or no connection to their home country. Shortly afterward, he told Pelosi and Schumer he would sign legislation protecting those immigrants, provided Democrats made concessions of their own on border security.