The pattern is clear.
Meetings between GOP President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders become best known for the mere fact that they occurred.
Results tend to consist of photo ops and momentary optimism that warring sides are trying to work out differences for the people's good.
Concrete progress is another story.
In a cordial head-to-head this week, Trump reportedly agreed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to spend $2 trillion on sorely needed infrastructure development.
This sounds like the outline of a major agreement. But quickly you learn that the possible source of the money, the project list, the requisite signoff from Republican lawmakers — that is, just about all key practical elements — remain unaddressed.
“The likelihood of that happening at $2 trillion — just on the face of what I saw — is pie in the sky,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) was quoted by Politico as saying. “But I’d love to have a big infrastructure bill.”
Some Democrats talk about partially rolling back 2017 GOP corporate tax cuts.
But Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a Trump ally, told Roll Call: “Being a party that reduced taxes, I don’t know that increasing taxes in an election year would have a great result, other than if you’re looking for results similar to George H.W. Bush,” who lost his re-election bid.
“A lot of us enjoy watching … the trial balloons he [Trump] floats. And oftentimes they’re extreme and aspirational,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).
A trade-off has always appeared possible on infrastructure, especially after Democrats took over the House. But the president seemed to shift toward the opposing party before on gun control, immigration and debt limits only to shrink back without any bipartisan deal. Sneering and name-calling inevitably resume.
For those who suspect that any show negotiations mean fake progress, the question becomes what happens next.
“The ball is in the president’s court to come up with pay-fors,” Schumer has said. "We told him unless he is willing to come up with the pay-fors for this large package, it will never get done.”
If they do anything at all, these meetings allow Trump to proclaim goals independent from those of his party's other elected officials, telegraphing to the public that he really does negotiate and gets things done.
But Democrats have only secondary clout these days. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) clearly calls his party's plays. His top plans — deregulation, conservative judges, tax cuts — are the ones that have prevailed. Trump's meetings with Democrats, without McConnell and other GOP legislators, have yet to yield tangible value even if they resemble a shot at cooperation.