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WASHINGTON — A group of rank-and-file House Democrats rejected President Donald Trump's invitation to lunch at the White House Tuesday, forcing the commander-in-chief to discuss his proposed border wall and the ongoing government shutdown with nine members of the GOP minority.
"Today, the president offered both Democrats and Republicans the chance to meet for lunch at the White House. Unfortunately, no Democrats will attend," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement issued about 45 minutes before the meeting was scheduled to begin.
"The president looks forward to having a working lunch with House Republicans to solve the border crisis and reopen the government," she said. "It’s time for the Democrats to come to the table and make a deal."
Trump has met repeatedly with Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., with various combinations of GOP negotiators but the two sides remain at an impasse. Trump is insisting on a package of $7 billion in additional spending for border security, including $5.7 billion for the wall, and Democrats say Trump should agree to sign bills to reopen several agencies that ran out of funding Dec. 22 without money for the wall.
The planned bipartisan lunch Tuesday was a bit of an end-run around Democratic leaders, targeted at rank-and-file Democrats — including members of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition — whose electorates are generally more friendly to Trump than those of the more liberal wing of the House Democratic Caucus.
"The problem with these White House meetings is we never know what we’re walking into,” said the chief of staff to one lawmaker who was invited to the lunch.
The last time Trump met with Pelosi, Schumer and other Democratic and Republican leaders, he asked Pelosi whether she would agree to fund the wall within 30 days if he reopened the government, she said no, and he walked out of the room. Trump issued a terse "bye-bye," as he left.
On top of the unpredictable nature of interactions with Trump, the aide said, the lawmakers who were invited weren't in position to cut a deal with him.
“This is nothing more than a political stunt," the aide said. "We have no power to negotiate.”
Afterward, Republicans who attended the meeting took jabs at Democrats.
"This is absolutely a crisis," Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, said of illegal immigration and the flow of contraband across the U.S. border with Mexico, calling Democrats' refusal to give Trump any money for the wall a display of "partisan pettiness."
Shortly before announcing that Democrats would not attend Tuesday's meeting, the White House invited another subset of the House — members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus — to a 1:45 p.m. Wednesday meeting with Trump, according to a White House official and a senior Democratic aide on Capitol Hill. It was not yet clear Tuesday afternoon whether any of the members of the Problem Solvers Caucus had accepted the invitation.