WASHINGTON – President Trump and congressional leaders from both parties said Thursday they will look for ways to avoid a government shutdown, as the deadline to fund the government rapidly approaches.
"We hope that we're going to make some great progress for our country. I think that will happen," said Trump, who has previously criticized Democrats for wanting to include immigration provisions in a new spending plan.
While both the Senate and House passed a bill on Thursday to fund federal agencies at current levels for another two weeks, lawmakers are still scrambling to avoid a government shutdown. The government is now set to run out of money on Dec. 22 – yet disagreements over an immigration program and military spending threaten to hold up a longer term funding solution.
The Senate's top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, told Trump that "helping our soldiers is very important and helping average citizens is very important." He added: "We’re here in the spirit of 'let's get it done.'"
Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the top Democrat in the House, visited the White House after canceling a similar meeting scheduled for last week because Trump said he didn't think it would be possible to reach a deal. In a joint statement after the White House meeting, Schumer and Pelosi said, "nothing specific has been agreed to, but discussions continue."
The meeting also included Republican leadership, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
"The President had a constructive meeting with congressional leadership and Defense Secretary (James) Mattis, and the parties agreed on the need for eliminating the defense sequester to deal with the grave national security threats we face," Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said after the meeting.
"The President, Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell also stressed that negotiations on immigration should be held separately on a different track, and not as part of the government funding bill," Sanders continued. "The President reiterated his priorities for ensuring any immigration package ends chain migration, constructs a border wall, and substantially strengthens immigration enforcement to stop illegal immigration and visa overstays. The respective parties agreed to resume negotiations on a two-year budget cap deal tomorrow."
After an initial meeting in the Oval Office, the group later moved to the Situation Room to receive a briefing from Mattis. Trump has described national security as his top priority in the new spending plan.
In pitching a budget deal, Democrats want Trump and the Republicans to find a way to protect the 800,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought into the U.S. illegally by their parents, and had received protection under an Obama-era executive order.
Trump rescinded the order in September and gave Congress six months to come up with a solution. Democrats say protecting those covered by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), called Dreamers, is a top priority before the end of the year and some have threatened to hold up government funding over the issue.
Yet Trump and Republicans want to debate immigration next year. In the meantime, they are seeking a bill that increases defense spending.
Citing the number of global threats to the United States, Sanders said that "our national security should not be held hostage for irresponsible demands, and we certainly hope that won't happen."
In the meeting with Trump, Pelosi said Democrats also want the new spending plan to address the opioid crisis, veterans health, and children's health insurance.
During the run-up to the White House conference, each side accused the other of risking a shutdown.
"If a shutdown happens, as the president seemed to be rooting for earlier in his tweet this year, it will fall on his shoulders," Schumer said. "Nobody here wants to see a shutdown. We Democrats are not interested in one."
Pelosi tweeted that "we are committed to finding solutions to the urgent priorities the American ppl need us to act on.
Trump said Wednesday that a government shutdown "could happen" because Democrats are seeking "dangerous" immigration policies.
"They want to have illegal immigrants pouring into our country, bringing with them crime, tremendous amounts of crime," Trump said during a Cabinet meeting. "We don’t want to have that."
Last week, Trump also cited immigration in his tweet, which led to cancellation of a meeting. In that missive, Trump also said that "Chuck and Nancy" are "weak on Crime and want to substantially RAISE Taxes. I don’t see a deal!"