Republicans want Trump to keep out of border talks

Republicans are urging President Trump to step back, for now, from the negotiations to prevent a second partial government shutdown.

The president is offering a running, real-time commentary about the conference committee tasked with breaking the months-long stalemate between the White House and congressional Democrats, frustrating lawmakers who worry Trump is complicating already difficult talks.

In a tweet on Thursday, Trump warned that Republicans on the panel might be “wasting their time.”

He later added during a rollercoaster White House appearance before reporters that he “won’t even look” at a deal that didn’t including funding for his wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

GOP senators say Trump should stick to the sidelines and let the bipartisan group of appropriators, known for their ability to cut deals, get to work.

“I think it would be more worthwhile and effective if the president would allow some space for these negotiations to occur and not be doing commentary at this point,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said he hoped Trump’s skepticism was “wrong” and that the president was just “trying to set expectations low.”

Asked if the president should give negotiators some space, Thune added: “I think it’s good to let them do their thing and see what they can come up with.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), asked about Trump’s belief that Republicans are wasting their time, said she was trying to “urge success” and that the conference committee should “be empowered to do their work.”

The 17 lawmakers negotiating a possible deal have their work cut out for them.

They have little time to reach an agreement, and must negotiate in the shadow of Trump and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Those two political giants, who had several standoffs during the shutdown that ended last weekend, held dueling press outings on Thursday.

Pelosi put down Democratic goalposts for the negotiations, telling reporters that “there’s not going to be any wall money in the legislation.” But she also signaled a new openness to “some infrastructure,” including new fencing or other barriers.

Trump said he would not accept a deal without money for his prized wall, accused Pelosi of “playing games” and jabbed at the conference committee, saying, “I don’t think they’re going to make a deal.”

Democrats have been wary of trying to negotiate with the president, arguing that he is not reliable. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer(D-N.Y.), reviving a favored quotation, told reporters this week that trying to reach an agreement with Trump is like “negotiating with Jell-o.”

“When the president has stayed out of it, when the president has given Congress room, we have been repeatedly able to forge bipartisan agreements. … When the president injects … partisan demands, negotiations tends to fall apart,” Schumer said separately during a Senate floor speech.

The conference committee has until Feb. 15 to clinch a deal that resolves the border fight and funds a quarter of the government, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The 17-member panel met for the first time Wednesday.

Absent an agreement, there could be a second partial government shutdown or Trump could declare a national emergency to build his wall — an option he has kept on the table despite fierce pushback from lawmakers.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), a member of the conference committee and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said his goal was to reach a deal and that it would probably be easier if the task were left to the 17 lawmakers.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a member of GOP leadership, added that “the Constitution commits appropriations to the Congress, and I think we ought to do our job.”

But senators acknowledged that whatever agreement they come up with, Trump will ultimately have to sign.

“There’s no question that their opinion matters,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said of the White House.

Asked if it would be easier to get a deal if Trump wasn’t tweeting about the committee, Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said that “everybody’s going to continue to comment on this process. Everybody’s going to continue to put forward ideas. That’s how it works around here.”

Keeping Trump from continuously offering public commentary, some senators acknowledged, was a pipe dream.

Kennedy mused that Trump was just “saying out loud what a lot of people on Capitol Hill are thinking — this may be a total waste of time.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), a member of the conference committee, started laughing when he was asked if Pelosi and Trump should give them room to negotiate.

“I would like to have them just leave it up to me. But I have a notion that they’re going to want to [weigh in] and I think that’s the way it needs to be. We need to figure out what their input is and work off of that,” Tester said.

Cornyn, asked if Trump should stop tweeting about the conference committee, quipped: “Oh I don’t think the president wants anybody’s advice.” Reported Tehill