Talks on government shutdown stall

Trump, Democrats dig in over border wall funds
President Donald Trump in August
President Donald Trump in August

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders dug in Wednesday for a lengthy partial shutdown in a newly divided government after a White House meeting — the first in 22 days — yielded no agreement on a way to break an impasse over Trump’s demands for billions of dollars for a border wall.

During the contentious meeting in the Situation Room, Trump made his case for a wall on the southwestern border and rejected Democrats’ proposals for reopening the government while the two sides ironed out their differences.

“I would look foolish if I did that,” Trump responded after Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, posed the question to Trump directly, according to three officials familiar with the meeting, who described it on the condition of anonymity. He said that the wall was why he was elected, one of the officials said.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said after the meeting that he had no intention of putting Democratic bills to reopen the government to a vote if Trump would not sign them.

“We’re hopeful that, somehow, in the coming days and weeks, we’ll be able to reach an agreement,” McConnell told reporters at the Capitol, offering an ominous timeline.

The events underscored the personal and political crosscurrents standing in the way of any compromise between a president unwilling to lose face with his core supporters on his signature c a m pa i g n p ro m i s e and newly empowered Democrats — poised to assume control of the House on Thursday — who refuse to give ground on an issue that has come to symbolize Trump’s immigration policies.

With the partial government funding lapse dragging into its 12th day and affecting 800,000 federal employees, the confrontation in the Situation Room only served to highlight the depth of the divide.

“Could be a long time, or it could be quickly,” Trump said of resolving the shutdown. “It’s too important a subject to walk away from.”

Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, who is in line to be elected speaker Thursday, said: “We are asking the president to open up government. Why would he not do it?”

“He could not give a good answer,” Schumer said of the president.

Trump tried creative ways to persuade the Democrats that they should support his wall. At one point, he said Pelosi should back it because she was “a good Catholic” and Vatican City is surrounded by a wall, according to one of the officials familiar with the discussion.

In her first legislative act as speaker, Pelosi plans Thursday to bring up two bills to reopen the government. One would fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8, providing a month to break the impasse over border security funding, and a second would provide money for the remaining shuttered agencies and departments through September. The homeland security measure would devote $1.3 billion to border security measures, such as enhanced surveillance and fortified fencing, but not the wall.

Trump’s rejection of those measures left the prospects of a resolution at their dimmest since the shutdown began Dec. 22. It also highlighted the difficulty of the situation, in which Democrats, Republicans and even some White House staff members have found themselves trying to anticipate what Trump will accept.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the incoming minority leader, said the group would meet again Friday, although Democratic officials said they had received no formal invitation to do so.

In a pair of evening tweets, Trump seemed to hold out hope of an agreement, writing: “I remain ready and willing to work with Democrats to pass a bill that secures our borders, supports the agents and officers on the ground, and keeps America Safe. Let’s get it done!”

But the path to such a deal seemed murky at best.

Before he met congressional leaders Wednesday, Trump vetoed a compromise that his own vice president floated with Democrats last month to stave off the government funding lapse, saying $2.5 billion in border security spending was insufficient. In the hours before a midnight deadline to avert a shutdown before Christmas, Vice President Mike Pence had broached that number, which his team has quietly continued to push in the days after parts of the government ran out of money.

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