Day 13: Trump digs in on border wall at surprise appearance
By LISA MASCARO and CATHERINE LUCEY, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump made a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room Thursday on the 13th day of the partial government shutdown, as he continued to dig in his heels over his promised border wall.
“Without a wall you cannot have border security,” Trump said, insisting he has never had as much support on any issue as he has gotten in the past week. Trump left without taking questions, as did his staff.
Meanwhile, House Democrats prepared to pass a plan to re-open government without funding Trump’s signature promise. Trump is demanding billions of dollars to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, which the Democrats have refused. The White House has invited congressional leaders back for another meeting Friday, two days after failing to make progress during their first sit-down in weeks.
The new Congress convened with Democrats taking majority control of the House and returning Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to the speakership. Democrats expect to quickly pass legislation to re-open the government — without funds for Trump’s border wall.
“There is no amount of persuasion he can use” to get her to fund his wall, Pelosi said in an interview that aired Thursday on NBC’s “Today.” She added: “We can go through the back and forth. No. How many more times can we say no?”
Trump accused the Democrats of playing politics, as his White House signaled he was standing firm in his funding demands. Continuing to argue the wall is needed, he tweeted a video 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!”
Speaking on Capitol Hill, Vice President Mike Pence said the White House would work with Democrats and Republicans to “achieve the kind of agreement that will provide the border security that the American people need. And that means a wall, that means a physical barrier, but it also means a broad range of border security measures that’ll make our country more secure.”
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 would continue.
It would also include a separate 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.
The White House has rejected the Democratic package.
“Why not fully fund the Department of Homeland Security? Why doesn’t the Pelosi bill do that?” said White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.
On Thursday, Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer urged McConnell to put the House Democratic package on the Senate floor and send it to Trump.
“At this point, we need to take the lead here in Congress in the hopes that we can show President Trump the sweet light of reason,” Schumer said.
But Republicans who control the Senate say they won’t take it up without Trump on board. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it a “total nonstarter” and a waste of time.
“I would call it political theater, not productive lawmaking,” McConnell said Thursday, as he opened the new Congress.
Pence and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney were on the Hill Thursday.
Mulvaney, a former member, was on the House floor during the vote for speaker. Pence, who was on the Hill swearing in new senators for a few hours, had an impromptu, brief chat with Schumer, encouraging him to attend the Friday meeting at the White House.
Trump said ahead of his White House session with the congressional leaders that the partial shutdown will last “as long as it takes” to get the funding he wants.
In public, Trump renewed his dire warnings of rapists and others at the border. But when pressed in private Wednesday by Democrats asking why he wouldn’t end the shutdown, he responded at one point, “I would look foolish if I did that.” A White House official, one of two people who described that exchange only on condition of anonymity, said the president had been trying to explain that it would be foolish not to pay for border security.
“Could be a long time or could be quickly,” Trump said during lengthy public comments at a Cabinet meeting, his first public appearance of the new year. Meanwhile, the shutdown has closed 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.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said that there’s no need to prolong the shutdown and that he was disappointed the talks did not produce a resolution. He complained that
Democrats interrupted Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen as she was trying to describe a dreadful situation at the border.
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 proposal was made when Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials met at the start of the shutdown with Schumer, who left saying they remained far apart. On Wednesday Trump repeatedly pushed for the $5.6 billion he has demanded.
Making his case ahead of the private afternoon session, Trump 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,” he said at the meeting, joined by Cabinet secretaries and top advisers, including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
With no negotiations over the holidays, Trump complained he had been “lonely ” at the White House, 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.
She responded Thursday, saying, “The president may not know this, but Hawaii is part of the United States of America.” She says she was available on 24 hours’ notice.
The partial government shutdown began on Dec. 22.
Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Kevin Freking, Mary Clare Jalonick and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.