When I asked Montana Sen. Jon Tester, a member of the congressional group trying to reach a bipartisan deal on border security spending, if there was anything the president could say in his State of the Union address that would help the negotiations along, he didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Yeah, that he would sign whatever we came up with,” Tester said. “I don’t expect he will say that.”
Few, if any, members of Congress involved in the negotiations know what President Trump will say about the delicate negotiations. But they’re sure hoping it will be limited.
On Tuesday, members of the Homeland Security conference committee said that the discussions weren’t deadlocked. This is in part a signal to the president that he need not declare his national emergency just yet, a move that would split the Republican conference. But that doesn’t mean they want his help. If there was a bipartisan message to the president on Tuesday afternoon, it was that he should stay away from any firm demands in his speech, and leave the work to the pros.
“Every time we leave it up to the conferees—Democrat and Republican, House and Senate—we’ve been able to come up with a good agreement,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday. “It’s when the president interferes that there’s a problem. My advice to the president: If you don’t want to shut down the government, if you don’t want to have to declare a national emergency … stay out of it.”
Republicans involved in the negotiations, meanwhile, have come a far way from their posture during the shutdown that they wouldn’t consider any legislation the president didn’t support. This time, they’re working to see what legislation can get bipartisan agreement, and then they’ll see how the president feels about it. They are not in the mood, at this point, to see Trump throw any curveballs into the talks during his nationally televised address.
“I think it’s better if the committee gets to work its will,” West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a member of the conference committee, told me. “And I think that means, let us see how far we can go. And then we can get everybody else to weigh in.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed that sentiment in his weekly press conference. “I think the conferees ought to reach an agreement,” McConnell said. “And then we’ll hope that the president finds it worth signing.”
So if they don’t want him to get in the way, what could he say in Tuesday night’s address that would be helpful to negotiators? I asked this of Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, one of the Republicans’ best negotiators and a member of the conference committee. He thought for a few seconds.
“Well,” he said, shrugging, “that it’s a real opportunity.”
Something tells me that Trump will have a bit more to say on the matter than that.