‘Deal-Maker’ Trump Isn’t Making Any Deals, As Shutdown Caps His First Year

The president is blaming Democrats for the standstill, but some senators say Trump is effectively impossible to cut a deal with.

The first anniversary of the self-professed ultimate deal-maker’s inauguration is being celebrated in Washington with a government shutdown and no deal to reopen it in sight.

“This is the One Year Anniversary of my Presidency and the Democrats wanted to give me a nice present,” Trump tweeted early Saturday morning.

Trump, who was supposed to be celebrating this weekend at a high-dollar fundraiser at his exclusive Florida resort, is now stuck in Washington. But while the White House says Trump is working the phones, other than an ultimately unsuccessful meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday, the president has been largely sidelined from deal-making, with congressional leadership and a few of his top aides taking the lead.

And some senators from both parties say negotiating with Trump himself to find a way out of the shutdown is essentially impossible.

Trump extensively bragged about his negotiating skills on the campaign, wrote a book literally titled "The Art of The Deal," and has tweeted about deals being his "art form." "Other people paint beautifully or write poetry," he tweeted in 2014. "I like making deals, preferably big deals. That's how I get my kicks."

Marc Short, Trump’s White House legislative director, said in a briefing Saturday that the White House remains anxious to get to a deal, but when asked if the timing of the shutdown reflects poorly on the administration, he said it was the opposite.

“I think it’s disappointing that Congress has chosen to shut down the government, and particularly Senate Democrats have, on the one-year anniversary,” he said, going on to call Democrats “toddlers.”

“I think many Democratic activists look at the accomplishments this administration has made in the last year and they push their leadership to shut down the government ... Their reaction is, because we can’t beat them we're going to shut down the government,” he said.

Trump insiders also acknowledged to BuzzFeed News that the anniversary of his presidency ending in more "chaos" rather than celebration is "bothersome." But they continue to insist that it takes two sides to make a deal, and that one side — the Democrats — has been too uncooperative to get anywhere.

"It is very frustrating," said a source close to the administration. "But even deal-makers don't win them all, especially in politics. It's the grandstanding on the part of the Democrats that's getting in the way."

That’s not how everyone sees it. In a press conference Saturday afternoon, Schumer detailed how a rough agreement he and Trump came to at Friday’s lunch fell apart in the hours leading up to the shutdown. "Negotiating with this White House is like negotiating with Jell-O," the New York Democrat said. "It's close to impossible."

Schumer said it's also unclear who is even supposed to be on the other side of the deal. GOP leadership in Congress has told him to negotiate with Trump, he said, and Trump has told him to go to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"It's next to impossible to strike a deal with the president because he can't stick to the terms," Schumer said. "So here we are on the first anniversary of the president's inauguration mired in the Trump shutdown, but it doesn't have to be this way."

Trump’s Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters later Saturday that Schumer “mischaracterized” the meeting with Trump. (A Schumer aide responded in a tweet that Mulvaney hadn't been in the meeting)

Matt Schlapp, a GOP consultant close to Trump, said the public saw Trump's deal-making skills firsthand when he brought the cameras into his negotiation with lawmakers on immigration, so they should not doubt his abilities to cut deals but rather question Democrats’ stance, as some of the party’s leaders spent the first hours of the shutdown rallying with Trump opponents at the Washington Women’s March. "Boy, I don't see how it makes the case that Democrats are ready to govern when they are more ready to protest."

"You can't really negotiate until two parties want to negotiate," Schlapp said. "Democrats actually want a shutdown."

That on-camera negotiating session, however, has so far only led to where the government is now: shut down.

Even a Republican senator — albeit one who has been critical of Trump — told reporters Saturday that the president is not a reliable partner in cutting legislative deals.

"If we can reach an agreement with the White House, great," Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake told reporters. "But we haven't been able to. We've been working for months and can't [get] from the White House what their position is. It's different on Tuesday than it is on Thursday."

With the future of government funding unclear, Trump world is also gaming out how the optics of the shutdown on Trump’s one-year anniversary will play out politically.

A former Trump administration official said neither Trump nor Republicans would necessarily be blamed for the shutdown, however the government running out of funding — especially the timing of it — would help Democrats in a midterm election by energizing their base.

“There was no incentive for Schumer to cut an immediate deal because Trump having the government shut down on the one-year anniversary of his inauguration is exactly the visual Democrats wanted to create," the official said.

"Unfortunately, the question of blame won't matter in the long term, but what does matter is the message Democrats are sending to their base voters for the midterms, that they are going to stand up and fight on issues they care about."

Paul McLeod contributed reporting.

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