By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic leaders in Congress on Monday accepted an invitation to meet U.S. President Donald Trump and Republicans for talks to avert a government shutdown this week, even as the Democrats pressed demands on funding priorities and protecting young immigrants.
House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who canceled a meeting with Trump last week after he posted a disparaging note about them on Twitter, said on Monday they hoped the president would remain open-minded about reaching a deal with Democrats.
“We need to reach a budget agreement that equally boosts funds for our military and key priorities here at home,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a statement. “There is a bipartisan path forward on all of these items.”
The meeting was scheduled for Thursday, a day before funding for the federal government is due to run out.
House Republicans over the weekend introduced a stopgap measure that would fund the government at current levels until Dec. 22 to give lawmakers time to reach a deal on a longer-term bill. Congress is expected to vote on the measure this week.
Conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus asked House Republican leaders to extend the duration of the stopgap measure through Dec. 30 in exchange for their votes for the House to go to conference with the Senate on tax legislation, which moved Congress closer to a final bill for a major tax overhaul.
“There is a better chance of going to the 30th than the 22nd, but no commitment,” Representative Mark Meadows, chairman of the Freedom Caucus, told reporters.
The House Republican leadership agreed to consider the Dec. 30 date and talk to the Senate leadership about it, a House Republican leadership aide said.
Trump is scheduled to have lunch with Republican members of the Senate at the White House on Tuesday.
DEMOCRATIC SUPPORT NEEDED
Republicans have a majority in both the House and Senate. But they will need some Democratic support to get the spending bill past Senate procedural hurdles that require 60 votes, since there are only 52 Republicans in the 100-member chamber.
Schumer said on Monday that everyone should be working to avoid a shutdown, and he did not believe Republican congressional leaders wanted one.
“The only one at the moment who’s flirted with a shutdown is President Trump, who tweeted earlier this year that ‘we could use a good shutdown to fix the mess,'” Schumer said.
The Republican bill will provide some short-term help for states that are running out of money to finance a health insurance program for lower-income children, Republican aides said.
Schumer and Pelosi on Monday listed that program among their priorities, which also included the opioid crisis, pension plans, rural infrastructure and protection for young immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, known as “Dreamers.”
Those young immigrants must be taken care of now, Senate Democratic whip Dick Durbin declared on the Senate floor. He said Democrats had offered in return to toughen border security, a Republican priority.
“How can we in good conscience pass a spending bill giving authority and resources to this administration to go out and arrest and deport these young people – and not address the underlying issue of their legality and future in the United States?” Durbin asked.
(Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)
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