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White House, Republicans try to shift shutdown blame to Democrats

WASHINGTON — The White House invited moderate House Democrats to lunch Tuesday to join talks to end the partial government shutdown, but Republicans were left eating by themselves when Democrats refused to break ranks.

“I thought I was coming to a bipartisan luncheon,” Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, told reporters outside the West Wing Tuesday afternoon. “No Democrats showed up.”

Polls show that voters have blamed Republicans more than Democrats for the shutdown, which at 25 days old is the longest in history. Republicans have been working to shift the blame and throw more heat on Democrats for refusing to come to the table.

Rep. Jodey Arrington, R-Texas, complained that President Donald Trump extended negotiations in good faith and the only movement from Democrats was a “cheap shot” comment from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that she was willing to budge from no money for a border wall to $1.

Pelosi, D-Calif., said she told Democrats they were free to talk to the White House, but there were no takers.

Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., one of the Democrats invited to the White House lunch, said in a statement that he “welcomes the opportunity to talk with the president about border security, as soon as the government is reopened.”

Nevada’s three House Democrats – Reps. Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford — all said they did not receive a lunch invitation from the White House.

Spokeswoman Sarah Abel said Lee “would welcome an invitation from the White House in order to urge the president in person to sign the bipartisan legislation the House passed two weeks ago and end this shutdown. Once the government is reopened, she would be more than willing to work with the president and Republicans in Congress to improve border security and reform our immigration system.”

Negotiations to end the shutdown, which has caused 800,000 federal workers to go without paychecks, have stalled since Jan. 9 when Trump concluded that talking with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was “a total waste of time.”

For their part, Democratic leaders have refused to negotiate until the government is reopened, which they say could happen if the Senate approved spending bills passed by the House and Trump signed them.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, said he will not bring measures to the floor unless he knows Trump will sign them. And Trump has not relented on his demand that a spending package include $5.7 billion for a wall at the border with Mexico.

Trump essentially claimed ownership of any shutdown when he told Schumer and Pelosi he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security” on Dec. 11.

The president took a shot at Pelosi earlier Tuesday when he tweeted, “Why is Nancy Pelosi getting paid when people who are working are not?”

Pelosi replied on Twitter, “@realDonaldTrump stop holding the paychecks of 800,000 Americans hostage. There is no reason for them to be suffering right now. Re-open the government! #TrumpShutdown.”

Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center argued that it didn’t hurt Democrats that none showed up at the White House — at least “not with the people who matter to them, which is their voters.”

Even as some Democrats have voiced support for some sort of border structure, they have remained united in opposing resuming negotiations until the shutdown ends.

Still, there are signs that Democrats and Republicans are feeling heat to end the shutdown.

Veterans groups held a press conference Tuesday at which they asked Trump and Congress to end the shutdown.

“We do not deserve to be in the crosshairs of a political fight,” Melissa Bryant, chief policy officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said.

Over 350,000 people signed an online petition demanding that members of Congress and their highest-paid staffers forfeit their salaries during shutdowns.

“Democrats have been feeling the heat from day one because they are worried about federal workers, and the fact that livelihoods have been affected,” said Democratic strategist Maria Cardona. “People should not have to choose between buying prescription drugs and paying the rent.”

The answer, Cardona said, is that Trump “could end this shutdown now.”

Contact Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7391. Follow @DebraJSaunders on Twitter.

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