Democrats boycott meeting with Trump at White House to negotiate government shutdown

Congressional Democrats have rejected an invite from Donald Trump to attend a lunch meeting at the White House, as the president looks to build support for his border wall without Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

The White House has said no rank-and-file House Democrats will attend the lunch aimed at trying to end a record-setting partial government shutdown. It highlighted the limits of the White House’s new strategy of trying to bypass Democratic leaders to bolster Mr Trump’s position after requesting $5.7bn (£4.5bn) in funds to build the wall on the Mexico border.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said instead of a bipartisan lunch, nine House Republicans would attend. She added that the president “looks forward to having a working lunch with House Republicans to solve the border crisis and reopen the government”.

“The president has a proposal on the table that includes additional technology at ports of entry, allows minors from Central America to seek asylum in their home country, and physical barriers between ports of entry made of steel instead of concrete,” she said. “Today, the president offered both Democrats and Republicans the chance to meet for lunch at the White House. Unfortunately, no Democrats will attend.”

Democrats have steadfastly refused to agree to the funding, offering $1.3bn for general border security. Party leadership has called on the president to open the government while negotiations continue.

House of Representatives speaker Ms Pelosi gave her blessing for Democrats to attend the lunch meeting if they wished. However, leadership did press upon invited members to consider whether the talks would be productive or simply amount to a photo opportunity for the president.

Ms Pelosi and Mr Schumer, the leading Democrat in the Senate, have met several times with Mr Trump during the shutdown, now in its 25th day. Mr Trump walked out of their most recent meeting.

Legislators invited to the White House were said to include centrists from districts where Mr Trump is popular, according to Representative Jim Cooper of Tennessee.

Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut, another centrist Democrat, said the White House is “grasping at straws”.

“The majority of Americans understand exactly what is happening here,” he said. “The president could open the government tomorrow and he refuses to. We’re very conscious of the fact that this is a bully and when you allow him to succeed by holding the government hostage you can expect to see that play run again.”

“It’s time for the Democrats to come to the table and make a deal,” Ms Sanders said. The White House did not say how many Democrats were invited.

Democrat House majority leader Steny Hoyer told reporters on Tuesday morning that his party “was unified”. He added that the House will not take its scheduled recess next week if the government is still partially shut down.

The House is set for a 10-day recess after Thursday’s session, but Mr Hoyer’s office said members will be subject to 24-hour notice to return over the weekend to vote on legislation to reopen the government. He also said that the House would be in session from 22 to 25 January if needed.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell followed suit later on Tuesday, saying the Senate would also sit if the government was still closed.

Democrats in the House have voted on a number of bills to open parts of the government, including two more set for this week. But Mr McConnell has said the Senate will not vote on anything Mr Trump will not sign into law. He said on the Senate floor that Democrats need to get off the “political carousel” of the shutdown fight and that they have turned Mr Trump’s wall into “something evil”.

About a dozen new House Democrats walked across the Capitol grounds to personally askMr McConnell to pass bills to open the governemnt, but Mr McConnell was on the chamber floor at the time.

The effects of the shutdown are being felt across the country. More than 800,000 missed being paid on Friday, with hundreds of thousands of “essential” workers being forced to turn up to their jobs.

Drug and food inspections have been curtailed, while farmers have not been able to access subsidies. Lines have formed at airport security posts as federal screeners fail to turn up to work.

Speaking on CNBC, Delta Air Lines Inc CEO Ed Bastian said the partial shutdown will cost the airline $25m (£19.6m) in lost revenue in January because fewer government contractors are travelling.

Associated Press contributed to this article