WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump declared Friday he could keep parts of the government shut down for "months or even years" as he and Democratic leaders failed in a second closed-door meeting to resolve his demand for billions of dollars for a border wall with Mexico. They did agree to a new round of weekend talks between staff members and White House officials.
US Capitol building / Cropped Photo: Martin Falbisoner / CC BY-SA 3.0 / (MGN)
Trump met in the White House Situation Room with congressional leaders from both parties as the shutdown hit the two-week mark amid the impasse over his wall demands. Democrats emerged from the two-hour meeting, which both sides said was contentious at times, to report little if any progress.
Appearing in the Rose Garden, Trump spoke more positively, calling it a "very good meeting." He confirmed he "absolutely" made the comment about the possible length of the shutdown but said he hoped it wouldn't last that long.
He also said he could declare a national emergency and authorize more wall funding on his own but would first try a "negotiated process." Trump previously described the situation at the border as a "national emergency" before he dispatched active duty troops in what critics described as a pre-election stunt.
Asked if he was still proud to own the shutdown as he has previously declared, Trump said: "I don't call it a shutdown. I call it doing what you have to do for the benefit and the safety of our country."
As anxiety mounts over the length of the shutdown, Trump said the hundreds of thousands who are furloughed or working without pay would want him to "keep going" and fight for border security. He said, "These people in many cases are the biggest fan" of his actions.
Democrats, on the other hand, spoke of families unable to pay bills and called on Trump to reopen the government while negotiations continue on border security. Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, "It's very hard to see how progress will be made unless they open up the government."
Friday's meeting came after House Democrats muscled through legislation Thursday night to fund the government but not Trump's proposed wall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said those measures are non-starters on his side of the Capitol without the president's support.
As the impasse dragged on, however, some GOP senators up for re-election in 2020 voiced discomfort.
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."
"Negotiations on border security should continue while a stopgap funding resolution is approved for the Department of Homeland Security," she said.
Trump designated Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and adviser Jared Kushner to work with a congressional delegation over the weekend. He was joined by Pence in the Rose Garden, as well as House Republican leaders Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise.
McConnell, who went back to the Capitol instead, said it was encouraging that the working group of White House officials and the congressional contingent would meet over the weekend "to see if they can reach an agreement and then punt it back to us for final sign off."
Senate Democratic leader Schumer said that if McConnell and Senate Republicans stay on the sidelines, "Trump can keep the government shut down for a long time."
"The president needs an intervention," Schumer said. "And Senate Republicans are just the right ones to intervene."
Adding to national unease about the shutdown 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 House 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 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."
Pelosi has already said she opposes trading DACA for the wall. But Graham said in the interview, "If you got a better off-ramp I'm all ears."
Trump appeared cool to the prospect of a deal including DACA, saying "we'll discuss it at another time" and adding that he was waiting to see what happens to that issue in the courts.
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 included eight leaders — the top two Democrats and Republicans of both chambers. A session earlier in the week produced finger pointing with no breakthroughs.
Trump on Wednesday told the leaders he would "look foolish" if he gave in without the billions of dollars he is asking for the wall.
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.
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!"
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Mary Clare Jalonick, Laurie Kellman, Kevin Freking, Matthew Daly, Deb Riechmann and Eileen Putman contributed.