Talks to reopen parts of the government appeared at a standstill Wednesday night, with negotiators making little progress and President Donald Trump vowing to do “whatever it takes” to get new funds for a border wall.
Capitol Hill remained quiet over the Christmas break, and while both chambers of Congress are expected to gavel in on Thursday, there are no votes scheduled and no signs yet that lawmakers will return to Washington this week.
Asked Wednesday how long he believes the partial shutdown will last, the President held firm on his position.
“Whatever it takes,” Trump said. “I mean, we’re gonna have a wall. We’re gonna have safety. We need safety for our country.”
Funding for about a quarter of the government expired at midnight early Saturday after lawmakers and the White House failed to reach an agreement on the amount of border wall money to include in a must-pass spending package.
Trump is blaming Democrats for the partial closure of the federal government, despite saying earlier this month that he would own any shutdown and be “proud” to do it over border security.
“Nancy is calling the shots,” the President said Wednesday, referring to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is all but certain to become speaker of the House once Democrats take the majority next month. Trump implied the California Democrat was stonewalling wall funding to shore up support for her speaker bid, saying, “Probably if they do something, she’s not going to get the votes.”
Negotiations have largely taken place at the staff level this week after Vice President Mike Pence made an offer over the weekend of $2.5 billion for border security, which is half of the $5 billion that Trump has been demanding and was included in a House-passed bill.
Democrats have made clear that Pence’s offer was a nonstarter and they appear to be holding firm on their previous offer, which includes $1.3 billion in new funds for border security with some disaster relief aid.
In a Christmas Eve statement, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York argued that negotiations have been in disarray because of mixed messaging from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
“Different people from the same White House are saying different things about what the president would accept or not accept to end his Trump Shutdown, making it impossible to know where they stand at any given moment,” the Democratic leaders said. “The president wanted the shutdown, but he seems not to know how to get himself out of it.”
Their statement came as Trump unleashed a string of Christmas Eve tweets blasting Democrats for not making a counteroffer after Pence made his offer over the weekend.
“At some point the Democrats not wanting to make a deal will cost our Country more money than the Border Wall we are all talking about,” the President tweeted. “Crazy!”
In a Christmas Day phone call with US troops, Trump made no predictions of when government agencies would reopen, saying only that “it’s not going to be open until we have a wall, a fence, whatever they would like to call it.”
The President was asked repeatedly while visiting US troops in Iraq on Wednesday whether he would be willing to accept $2 billion for the border wall. He dodged the question three times before finally saying, “I’m not going to talk about it now.”
House Democrats are expected to bring up a bill to reopen the government in the new session, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has made it clear he will put on the floor only legislation that has Trump’s backing and could get 60 votes in the Senate.
Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who’s a close ally of the President’s and chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said Wednesday that Trump’s resolve to get $5 billion for border security is “very firm.”
“I can tell you, if (Democrats) believe this President is going to yield on this particular issue, they’re misreading him, misreading the American people,” Meadows told CNN’s Manu Raju on “Inside Politics.”
“I see no evidence that would suggest he would come even close to 1.3” billion dollars, Meadows said. “I don’t see that as a reasonable counteroffer.”
Trump claimed this week — without explanation — that he’d recently approved 115 miles of border barrier and he would go to the new stretch of the wall in January, though the White House hasn’t provided any details on the barrier.
“It’s going to be built, hopefully rapidly,” he said. “I’m going there at the end of January for the start of construction. That’s a big stretch.”