WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday he was prepared to keep the government shutdown going “for as long as it takes” as congressional Democrats moved to deny his more than $5 billion request to build a border wall.
A day before Congress was set to reconvene, and as the shutdown entered its twelfth day, Republican and Democratic congressional leaders emerged from a White House meeting with Trump and Department of Homeland Security officials with no deal in sight.
“I don’t think any particular progress was made today,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters after the gathering. He added that the group “talked about all aspects” of border security “and it was a civil discussion and we are hopeful that somehow in the coming days or weeks we will be able to reach an agreement."
Trump, who invited lawmakers to the White House for what was billed as a “briefing” on border security, rather that a full-blown negotiation session, had seemed willing to broker a deal, tweeting to presumed incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday: “Let’s make a deal?” But hours before Wednesday’s gathering, Trump told reporters he would not budge from his $5.6 billion demand.
“It’s too important a subject to walk away from,” Trump said of the wall, describing it as a matter of “national security.”
Last week, Vice President Mike Pence offered Democratic leaders a compromise figure of $2.5 billion in border wall funding, but Trump dismissed the figure when asked about it during Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, saying his request was a nominal figure compared with the amount of money spent to sustain a military presence in Afghanistan.
“The wheel, the wall, some things never get old,” Trump said when describing the need for a physical barrier.
Democrats, who are set to gain control of the House on Thursday, have balked at the Trump administration’s offers, describing the wall as “medieval” and an ineffective solution to curbing illegal immigration into the U.S. They have been pushing Trump to accept an offer of $1.3 billion for other border security efforts such as fencing and technology to surveil the border.
Pelosi said House Democrats plan to vote on legislation Thursday that would immediately reopen the nearly dozen agencies impacted by the shutdown through a series of separate spending bills that would fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8 and various other agencies until Sept. 30. Pelosi noted that similar legislation had been supported by the GOP-controlled Senate.
“We're asking the President to open up Government,” Pelosi told reporters after the White House briefing. “We're giving him a Republican path to do that. Why would he not do it?"
McConnell told reporters Wednesday the Senate will not take up the House bill, and will not vote on any measure not first approved by Trump.
“As I said for the last few weeks, the Senate will be glad to vote on a measure that the house passes that the president will sign. But we’re not going to vote on anything else,” McConnell said.
Some 800,000 federal employees have been affected by the shutdown, and federal parks and museums across the country also have been shuttered. Earlier this week, the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, alleging that the shutdown is illegally forcing more than 400,000 federal workers, deemed as “essential,” to work without pay.
Several lawmakers, including Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and incoming Rep. Max Rose (D-Staten Island), have asked for their pay to be withheld until the shuttered agencies are reopened.
"It's crazy to me that Members of Congress get paid while other federal employees do not,” Zeldin wrote in a letter to the House Chief Administrative Office.