By LISA MASCARO
WASHINGTON (AP) — No one budged at President Donald Trump’s White House meeting with congressional leaders Wednesday, so the partial government shutdown persisted through a 12th day over his demand for billions of dollars to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. They’ll try again Friday.
In one big change, the new Congress convenes Thursday with Democrats taking majority control of the House, and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said outside the White House that there would be rapid passage of legislation to re-open the government — without funds for the border wall. But the White House has rejected that package, and Trump said ahead of the session with the congressional leaders that the partial shutdown will last “as long as it takes” to get the funding he wants.
“Could be a long time or could be quickly,” Trump said during lengthy comments at a Cabinet meeting at the White House, his first public appearance of the new year. Meanwhile, the shutdown dragged through a second week, closing some parks and leaving hundreds of thousands of federal employees without pay.
Democrats said they asked Trump directly during Wednesday’s private meeting held in the Situation Room why he wouldn’t consider their package of bills. One measure would open most of the shuttered government departments at funding levels already agreed to by all sides. The other would provide temporary funding for Homeland Security, through Feb. 8, allowing talks to continue over border security.
“I said, Mr. President, Give me one good reason why you should continue your shutdown,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said afterward. “He could not give a good answer.” Added Schumer, “We would hope they would reconsider.” House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said there’s no need to prolong the shutdown and he was disappointed the talks did not produce a resolution. He complained that Democrats interrupted Homeland Security officials who were trying to describe a dire situation at the border.
“We were hopeful that we could get more of a negotiation,” said McCarthy. He said the leaders plan to return to the White House Friday to continue negotiations. The two sides have traded offers, but their talks broke down ahead of the holidays. On Wednesday, Trump also rejected his own administration’s offer to accept $2.5 billion for the wall. That offer was made when Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials met with Schumer at the start of the shutdown. Instead, on Wednesday Trump repeatedly pushed for the $5.6 billion he has demanded.
Making his case ahead of the afternoon session with Democratic and Republican leaders, he said the current border is “like a sieve” and noted the tear gas “flying” overnight to deter arrivals. “If they knew they couldn’t come through, they wouldn’t even start,” Trump said at the meeting, joined by Cabinet secretaries and top advisers, including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Trump complained that he had been “lonely” at the White House during the holiday break, having skipped his getaway to Mar-a-Lago in Florida.
He claimed his only companions were the “machine gunners,” referring to security personnel, and “they don’t wave, they don’t smile.” He also criticized Pelosi for visiting Hawaii. At the Capitol on Wednesday, Pelosi said she hoped Republicans and the White House “are hearing what we have offered” to end the shutdown. Trump contended the Democrats see the shutdown fight as “an election point” as he celebrated his own first two years in office. He promised “six more years of great success.”
The partial government shutdown began on Dec. 22. Funding for the wall has been the sticking point in passing funding bills for several government departments. Pelosi, who is expected to become speaker on Thursday, said Tuesday that Democrats would take action to “end the Trump Shutdown” by passing legislation Thursday to reopen government. “We are giving the Republicans the opportunity to take yes for an answer,” she wrote in a letter to colleagues. “Senate Republicans have already supported this legislation, and if they reject it now, they will be fully complicit in chaos and destruction of the President’s third shutdown of his term.”
But the Republican-led Senate appears unlikely to consider the Democratic funding bills. A spokesman for GOP leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans would not take action without Trump’s backing. Even if only symbolic, passage of the bills in the House would put fresh pressure on the president. At the same time, administration officials said Trump was in no rush for a resolution to the impasse, believing he has public opinion and his base on his side.
The Democratic package to end the shutdown would include one bill to temporarily fund the Department of Homeland Security at current levels — with $1.3 billion for border security, far less than Trump has said he wants for the wall — through Feb. 8 as talks continued. It would also include another measure to fund the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Housing and Urban Development and others closed by the partial shutdown. That measure would provide money through the remainder of the fiscal year, to Sept. 30.