Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer vented to fellow lawmakers and media on Saturday about the difficulty in negotiating with President Donald Trump, who Schumer said came close multiple times to cutting bipartisan deals to avert a government shutdown, only to abruptly back out hours later.
"Negotiating with President Trump is like negotiating with Jell-O," Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor. "It's next to impossible."
Lawmakers have been locked in a standoff over government funding, to which Democrats have vowed to attach measures that would codify protections for the young unauthorized immigrants currently shielded from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The government officially shut down at midnight on Saturday after the Senate failed to pass a funding bill late Friday night.
"He's turned blowing up bipartisan agreements into an art form," Schumer said Saturday afternoon. "The president can't take yes for an answer. Twice in this long debate, President Trump walked away from partisan deals to solve all of the issues before us."
'Spinning our wheels'
Schumer was referring to a bipartisan deal on immigration measures spearheaded by Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican. The lawmakers said Trump had expressed enthusiasm and amenability to the bill before suddenly changing his mind in just two hours.
The lawmakers have accused White House staff members, such as chief of staff John Kelly and policy adviser Stephen Miller, of hijacking the negotiations by pushing hardline immigration view upon the president, making bipartisan compromises impossible.
"Tuesday we had a president that I was proud to golf with, call my friend, who understood that immigration had to be bipartisan, you had to have border security," Graham said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday. "But he also understood that you had to do it with compassion. I don't know where that guy went. I want him back."
A nearly identical situation occurred Friday, Schumer said, after he met with Trump at the White House over cheeseburgers and hashed out a tentative agreement that included Trump's long-promised wall along the US-Mexico border and the full amount of defense funding requested by the Pentagon.
Even those measures were not enough to appease the hardline conservative faction of the Republican party, Schumer said. Trump called back hours later proposing different terms.
"They called back again, 'Well, we're going to need this, this, this in addition,'" Schumer said. "Things they knew were far, far right and off the table."
Schumer is not the first lawmaker to publicly express frustration with Trump's wavering views — even Republican leaders have called him out.
"I'm looking for something that President Trump supports, and he's not yet indicated what measure he's willing to sign," Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday. "As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels."