How Trump and Schumer came close to a deal over cheeseburgers

President Donald Trump returns to the Oval Office Friday.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Democrat in the Senate, came close to an agreement to avert a government shutdown over lunch Friday. But their consensus broke down later in the day when the president and his chief of staff demanded more concessions on immigration, according to people on both sides familiar with the lunch and follow-up calls between Trump and Schumer.

The negotiations between Trump and Schumer, fellow New Yorkers who have known each other for years, began when the president called Schumer on Friday morning, giving the White House staff almost no heads-up. In a lengthy phone conversation, both men agreed to seek a permanent spending deal rather than the stopgap measure being negotiated by lawmakers on Capitol Hill.


Less than an hour later, Schumer was meeting with Trump over cheeseburgers in the president’s study next to the Oval Office. The White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, was there, as was Schumer’s chief of staff, Mike Lynch.

As the meal progressed, an outline of an agreement was struck, according to one person familiar with the discussion: Schumer said yes to higher levels for military spending and discussed the possibility of fully funding the president’s wall on the southern border with Mexico. In exchange, the president agreed to support legalizing young immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

Schumer left the White House believing he had persuaded the president to support a three- to four-day spending extension to finalize an agreement, which would also include disaster funding and health care measures.

“In my heart, I thought we might have a deal tonight,” Schumer recalled later, as he described the negotiations in remarks on the floor of the Senate.

Then everything fell apart.

By the end of the day, as midnight struck and the government officially shut down, senators continued talking and the White House issued a blistering statement that “Senate Democrats own the Schumer Shutdown.”


Trump, a onetime real estate mogul whose book “The Art of the Deal” proclaimed his mastery of negotiation, has struggled at times to seal deals as president. He inserted himself into health care negotiations in March, only to see talks in the House collapse. In September, a dealmaking dinner with “Chuck and Nancy” — Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader — devolved into angry recriminations. And he has failed to bring his promised trade talks to a close.

On Friday, when Schumer was back on Capitol Hill, Trump called Schumer, a person familiar with the call said, and told him he understood they had agreed on a three-week spending deal, not three or four days. Schumer told the president, the person said, that Democrats would oppose a three-week measure because they would see it as a delaying tactic.

A White House official said Schumer raised the possibility of a one or two-day extension, but Trump told Schumer to work out the details of a short-term measure with Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader.

A short time later Schumer called the president, the person said, but the conversation drove the pair even further apart. The immigration concessions from Democrats were not conservative enough, Trump told Schumer. The president said he needed more border security measures as well as more enforcement of illegal immigration in parts of the country far from the border.

As the evening wore on, Schumer got a call from Kelly that dashed all hopes for a Trump-Schumer deal before the shutdown deadline of midnight. Kelly, a hard-liner on immigration, the person familiar with the call said, outlined a long list of White House objections to the deal.


A White House official familiar with the call said Kelly urged Schumer to work out the details of an agreement with McConnell.

In a tweet at 9:28 p.m., Trump vented his pessimism on Twitter, returning to his administration’s efforts to try to make sure that Democrats receive the blame from voters angry about a government shutdown exactly one year from his inauguration.

“Not looking good for our great Military or Safety & Security on the very dangerous Southern Border,” Trump wrote. “Dems want a Shutdown in order to help diminish the great success of the Tax Cuts, and what they are doing for our booming economy.”

With talks between Trump and Schumer over, Republicans in the Senate scheduled a vote on a House-passed measure that leaders in both parties expected to fail. After the government shutdown began, Schumer lamented the failure to reach a deal with the president and blamed Trump for abandoning an agreement that was within reach.

“What happened to the President Trump who asked us to come up with a deal and promised to take the heat for it?” Schumer asked in remarks on the Senate floor. “What happened to that President Trump?”

The invitation for Schumer to come to the White House for a face-to-face with the president had been a heart-stopping moment for conservatives that conjured up their worst fears: a closed-door deal between Trump and the wily Democrat.

With Trump impatient to begin a golf-and-fundraising weekend at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida estate, there was once again the prospect that the president would publicly side with his Democratic adversaries, who refused to fund the government unless Congress passed legislation to protect the Dreamers.

Privately, Trump’s impulses had led him to ignore political protocols and his own Republican allies, like Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and McConnell, who had groused about the president in recent days that the Senate would consider an immigration bill “as soon as we figure out what he is for.”

The lack of any success between Schumer and Trump was a failure of what might have been.

Once, in the days after the 2016 election, Schumer saw a path toward working with Trump. Just as McConnell did at the time, Schumer believed he would be able to guide Trump — who has few fixed positions — toward his own initiatives.

Schumer is one of the few elected officials in Washington with whom Trump had something of a bond before he won the presidency. An adviser to Trump once pointed out that if the president had to choose between spending time with Schumer or McConnell, he would pick the Democratic leader almost every time.

Schumer appeared on a Season 5 episode of “The Apprentice,” the reality show that helped Trump create a brand in the eyes of millions of voters as a take-charge businessman. During the show, Schumer predicted that the future president was “going to go places.”

During the transition, Schumer appeared on a panel at an event held by the Partnership for New York City, a business group, where Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, also spoke. Schumer told attendees that the Democrats had stymied their chances with a message that failed to track more closely with Trump’s calls for fair trade.

In the wake of the failed negotiations on Capitol Hill and at the White House, Democrats predicted that the public would blame Trump and his Republican allies for a government shutdown, citing past examples of political stalemates in which voters punished Republican presidents and lawmakers.

Throughout the day, Trump told aides that he knew he was going to get blamed for the shutdown, regardless of what happened and how it went down.

But at the White House, Trump’s aides maneuvered to try to shield the president from the political damage that could follow. At the same time, they waged an intense public relations campaign to argue that Democrats should shoulder the responsibility for keeping the functions of government operating.

Trump delayed his afternoon departure for Mar-a-Lago, and aides said he had called members of both parties in hope of averting a shutdown that could have unpredictable repercussions in a midterm election year.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s top budget official, said the administration would instruct agencies to use reserve funds and to transfer money from other agencies to keep operations in place. He said the national parks would remain open and the military would continue to function, but he said employees performing those jobs would be doing so without pay until a spending agreement is reached.

In the morning, Mulvaney seemed resigned to failure, promising to “manage the shutdown differently” than President Barack Obama’s administration did a 2013 shutdown. He accused Obama of “weaponizing” that shutdown to maximize outrage against Republicans.


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