Washington — Why weren’t “Mitch and Paul” invited to President Donald Trump’s dinner with “Chuck and Nancy”?
Trump was to meet with Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday night, the latest overture by the Republican president to work with his adversaries.
Not invited were House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The White House said that Trump had invited the two Democratic leaders to dinner, more than week after the president reached an agreement with Schumer and Pelosi — despite objections from Republicans — on a three-month agreement to raise the debt ceiling, keep the government running and speed hurricane relief to states. The president and the congressional leaders were expected to discuss the fall deadlines facing Congress.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders essentially said there was no need for McConnell and Ryan to be at the meeting.
After all, she said at a Wednesday press briefing, “You’ve got the leader of the Republican Party sitting at the table” — referring to Trump.
Trump has said he’s simply doing “what the people of the United States want to see. They want to see some dialogue.”
And Wednesday afternoon, he preached bipartisanship in a meeting on tax reform with a group of moderate members of Congress from both parties.
Trump said that “some of the greatest legislation ever passed” was done in a bipartisan manner and that he’s hoping to give that a “shot.”
Congressional aides said Schumer and Pelosi were expected to discuss protections for young immigrants and stabilizing the health care markets. Trump has fumed at the Republican-led Congress’ inability to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law. He has given Congress six months to come up with a solution before he ends a program that protects from deportation young immigrants living in the country illegally, many of them brought here as children.
The dinner was the latest example of Trump’s bipartisan push. He had dinner Tuesday night with Republican and Democratic senators to talk about his planned tax overhaul, and last week he overruled Republican leaders and his own treasury secretary on the debt ceiling agreement. He also courted Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota with a flight to her home state on Air Force One. And at Pelosi’s request, he later offered reassurances to young immigrants on Twitter that those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program would “have nothing to worry about” over the next six months.
The Democrats Trump dined with on Tuesday — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and Heitkamp — are the only members of their party in the Senate who declined to sign on to a list of preconditions for supporting a tax overhaul drawn up by Schumer. The list includes that an overhaul not add to the deficit, not increase the tax burden on the middle class, and that it be considered under regular congressional procedures, rather than fast-tracked using rules that can avoid a Senate filibuster.
The so-called Big Six, a group of Republican congressional leaders and administration officials that’s negotiating a tax overhaul is targeting Sept. 25 to release a consensus outline, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said on Wednesday. The group includes the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader, the chairmen of the congressional tax-writing committees, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn.
Mulvaney said that Trump is trying to determine whether any Democrats will work with him on tax legislation.
“It’s more of a question of: are you interested in working working with us on tax reform?’ And I think the answer is uniformly yes,” Mulvaney said. “I think if the Democrats get beyond the talking point that a corporate tax reduction is a handout to the wealthy. Their problem, of course, is they’re so married to that rhetoric that it would be hard for them to do anything else.
“The question is will they have the political courage to look at the principles and the substance of the proposal, and I hope they will.”
Ryan said in an interview with the Associated Press that while he wanted a longer-term deal on the debt ceiling, Trump was in search of a “bipartisan moment” with lawmakers and his approach was “reasonable.”
“It’s only fitting that the president listens to the other party. He didn’t violate a principle. He did what he thought was right for the country at the moment,” Ryan said.
Bloomberg News contributed.
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