In newly divided US government, priorities of Trump and Democrats diverge

US President Donald Trump has invited congressional leaders from both parties to a briefing on border security on Jan 2, 2019.
US President Donald Trump has invited congressional leaders from both parties to a briefing on border security on Jan 2, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - America will get its first taste of divided government under President Donald Trump this week when a Democratic House tries to wrest control of the political agenda from Mr Trump, who appears determined to keep the focus on border security, immigration and his "big, beautiful" wall.

After the midterm elections ushered in the most diverse freshman class in history, House Democrats intend to put a spotlight on the issues that worked well for them during the campaign: diminishing the influence of the wealthy and connected, expanding voting rights, lowering prescription drug costs and passing a bipartisan infrastructure Bill.

Mr Trump, on the defensive and presiding over a federal government that remains partially closed, is trying to stomp on that message. On Tuesday (Jan 1), as the government shutdown was in its 11th day, Mr Trump invited congressional leaders of both parties to a briefing on Wednesday afternoon on border security.

White House officials did not say whether Mr Trump would attend.

It would be the first visit by Democratic leaders to the White House since Dec 11, when the President told Representative Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer he would be "proud to shut down the government for border security".

Mr Trump appeared to make a gesture of peace before Wednesday's meeting.

"Border Security and the Wall 'thing' and Shutdown is not where Nancy Pelosi wanted to start her tenure as Speaker!" he said on Tuesday on Twitter. "Let's make a deal?"

 
 
 

Just what deal Mr Trump had in mind was not clear. While Ms Pelosi has repeatedly signalled that she would like to find a compromise which would allow the government to reopen, she has also made it clear that a wall cannot be part of any such deal, whether or not that leads to a messy start to her speakership.

She hopes to introduce a transparency-in-governing measure after she is elected speaker on Thursday to portray Democrats as a responsible governing party and draw a contrast between them and Mr Trump's scandal-ridden administration.

But their first order of business will be reopening the government, as Ms Pelosi said on Tuesday on Twitter in response to Mr Trump.

The President "has given Democrats a great opportunity to show how we will govern responsibly & quickly pass our plan to end the irresponsible #TrumpShutdown", she said. "Just the first sign of things to come."