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Donald Trump’s role in shutdown talks spurs questions

President Donald Trump speaks on Capitol Hill in

President Donald Trump speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018. Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

The White House on Monday defended President Donald Trump’s level of involvement in talks to reopen the federal government, after he had remained out of the public eye over the weekend.

“The president was putting pressure and standing firm on exactly what he was willing to do and what he wasn’t,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said after the Senate voted to end the three-day government shutdown.

“And it very clearly worked because we’re back where we basically started on Friday” before talks aimed at averting a shutdown broke down, Sanders said.

Trump had campaigned on a promise to apply his business negotiation skills to gridlocked government in Washington. His first book is titled “The Art of the Deal.”

But after Capitol Hill leaders failed Friday to reach an agreement on immigration and spending issues, Democrats attacked him as undeserving of his dealmaker reputation.

And Republicans aired frustrations about a lack of decisiveness from the top.

“What’s even more frustrating than President Trump’s intransigence is the way he seems amenable to these compromises before completely switching positions and backing off,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Saturday. “Negotiating with President Trump is like negotiating with Jell-O.”

Republicans also appeared to have difficulty gauging Trump’s intentions.

“I’m looking for something that President Trump supports,” Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday. “And he’s not yet indicated what measure he’s willing to sign.”

On Monday, Schumer (D-N.Y.) and McConnell came to an agreement on a stopgap measure to reopen the government. The Senate passed the legislation, and the House followed suit hours later.

After the Senate vote, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a frequent Trump critic, said Trump’s leadership is even more necessary when it comes to getting legislation through the House.

“It’s going to be very difficult to pass anything through the House without the president’s support,” Flake told reporters, adding of the Senate: “We can’t wait for the president to indicate his support if we’re starting the process here.”

Sanders characterized Trump as holding his position and forcing Democrats to back a short-term solution that funds the government through Feb. 8. Meanwhile, negotiations will continue over the fate of young immigrants who arrived illegally in the United States, and on funding for a border wall.

The president had spent the weekend making calls to legislators and Cabinet members to manage the shutdown, she said. Trump had no public events Monday but Sanders issued a statement saying he had hosted six GOP senators to discuss the next steps in immigration reform.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney told Fox News on Monday that Trump after the Saturday morning shutdown “stepped back” from talks and went “from negotiating to running the government.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) indicated that Trump had been ready to compromise, only to be stopped by advisers such as Stephen Miller who take a hard line on immigration.

“He’s got a good understanding of what will sell,” Graham said Sunday of Trump, “and every time we have a proposal it is only yanked back by staff members.”

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