With no shutdown resolution in sight, President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders agreed Friday to additional staff-level talks over the weekend during a White House meeting at which Trump indicated he could keep parts of the government closed for “months or even years.”
Trump met with the congressional leaders for the second time in three days amid an impasse over Trump’s funding demands for his proposed wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats emerged from the lengthy meeting to report little if any progress.
“We told the president we needed the government open. He resisted. In fact, he said he’d keep the government closed for a very long period of time, months or even years,” said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Trump spoke more positively about the session, which lasted roughly two hours, calling it a “very good meeting.” But he confirmed he made the comment about the possible length of the shutdown.
“Absolutely I said that,” Trump said, but he added that he hopes it won’t be that long.
The meeting on the 14th day of the shutdown came after House Democrats muscled through legislation to fund the government but not Trump’s proposed wall. As the impasse over border funding dragged on, some GOP senators up for re-election in 2020 voiced discomfort.
But Trump dug in ahead of the meeting, writing in a letter to Congress, “Walls work. That’s why rich, powerful and successful people build them around their homes.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said even though the new Congress has convened since the last session at the White House, “the basic steps that are needed to end this unfortunate standoff really haven’t changed at all.”
McConnell has said measures approved by the House are non-starters on his side of the Capitol without the president’s support.
“Any viable compromise will need to carry the endorsement of the president before it receives a vote,” he said.
As progress has stalled, some Republican senators want action. Cory Gardner of Colorado said Congress should pass bipartisan bills to fund government “while we continue to fight for more border security money.” And Susan Collins of Maine said her “goal is to get government reopened as quickly as possible.”
“We have bipartisan agreements on six of the remaining funding bills, and I’d like to see those signed into law,” Collins said. “Negotiations on border security should continue while a stopgap funding resolution is approved for the Department of Homeland Security.”
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said that if McConnell and Senate Republicans stay on the sidelines, “Trump can keep the government shutdown for a long time.”
“The president needs an intervention,” Schumer said. “And Senate Republicans are just the right ones to intervene.”
Adding to the unease are economic jitters as analysts warn of the risks of closures that are disrupting government operations across multiple departments and agencies at a time of other uncertainties in the stock market and foreign trade.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump and Senate Republicans should “take yes for an answer” and pass the legislation — without money for the wall — that the Senate approved on a voice vote last month.
“We’re not doing a wall. Does anyone have any doubt that we’re not doing a wall?” Pelosi said Thursday night.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is close to Trump, said he spoke to the president Thursday about a potential compromise package that would include border wall money and some way to provide legal standing for the young immigrants here illegally but working or attending school under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Trump ended the program, but a lawsuit to allow it to continue is making its way through the courts.
“He’s open-minded to this,” Graham said in an interview, but he added the president “hasn’t committed.”
Graham said he has been talking with other senators about a deal that would include $5 billion in wall funding coupled with two measures to shield immigrants from deportation. One is the Bridge Act, bipartisan legislation that would extend DACA protection to some 700,000 young immigrants already in the program. The other component would be a fix for nearly 400,000 immigrants in the Temporary Protective Status program whose status has been jeopardized by the administration’s decision to roll back that program, which is for arrivals from certain countries facing disaster and war-torn conditions.
Pelosi has already said she opposes trading DACA for the wall, and it’s unclear if other Democrats and Republicans would be willing to engage in immigration negotiations. But Graham called such a compromise the best way out of the shutdown.
“If you got a better off-ramp I’m all ears,” he said.
Trump ally Sean Hannity on his Fox News show Thursday said the president is “willing to negotiate DACA.” But Vice President Mike Pence told Fox News late Thursday, “Bottom line, if there’s no wall, there’s no deal.”
In their first votes of the new Congress, House Democrats approved bills Thursday night to re-open government at previously agreed upon levels. Several Republicans crossed over to join them.
Friday’s White House meeting with Trump includes eight leaders — the top two Democrats and Republicans of both chambers. A session earlier in the week produced finger pointing with no breakthroughs.
Republicans said the new round of talks might be more productive now that Pelosi is speaker. But Democrats said the problem isn’t with them but with Trump, who once boasted of the shutdown but now must try to explain blocking the effort to re-open government with bills Republicans had earlier approved.
Trump on Wednesday told the leaders he would “look foolish” for conceding without money for the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Thursday, Trump made a surprise appearance at the White House briefing room, pledging to keep up the fight for his signature campaign promise.
“You can call it a barrier, you can call it whatever you want,” Trump said. “But essentially we need protection in our country. We’re going to make it good. The people of our country want it.”
Trump is demanding billions of dollars to build his wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
Asked if she would give Trump $1 for a wall to reopen the government, Pelosi said: “One dollar? Yeah, one dollar. The fact is a wall is an immorality. It’s not who we are as a nation.”
Polls show a majority of Americans oppose the border wall, although Republicans strongly support it.
White House and Department of Homeland Security officials have spent recent days trying to make both a public and private case that the situation at the border has reached a crisis point that demands more money than Democrats have offered.
Trump tweeted an ominous video Thursday with images of what appeared to be migrants trying to rush the border and clashing with law enforcement, beneath the words “crisis at the border,” ”drugs” and “crime.” The video concludes with footage of Trump at the border along with audio from one of his rallies in which he vows to build his promised border wall and the crowd chants “Build the wall!”