U.S. Politics

New Congress, same old impasse over Trump’s wall

The new Congress convenes Thursday with Democrats and leader Nancy Pelosi taking majority control of the House

The partial government shutdown entered a 13th day Thursday with House Democrats prepared to pass their plan to reopen government and President Donald Trump accusing them of playing politics with an eye on the 2020 election.

Both sides appeared at an impasse over Trump’s demand for billions of dollars to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. Congressional leaders will meet with Trump on Friday to try for a resolution.

The new Congress convenes Thursday with Democrats taking majority control of the House, and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, expected to be elected speaker, said they’d 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 airing Thursday on NBC’s “Today” show. She added: “We can go through the back and forth. No. How many more times can we say no?”

Trump shot back Thursday, accusing the Democrats of playing politics.

“The Shutdown is only because of the 2020 Presidential Election,” he said on Twitter. “The Democrats know they can’t win based on all of the achievements of “Trump,” so they are going all out on the desperately needed Wall and Border Security – and Presidential Harassment. For them, strictly politics!”

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, and Republicans who control the Senate are hesitant to take it up without Trump on board. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it a “total nonstarter.” 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.

“I said, Mr. President, Give me one good reason why you should continue your shutdown,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said afterward. “He could not give a good answer.”

At another point Wednesday, Trump told Pelosi that, as a “good Catholic,” she should support the wall because Vatican City has a wall, according to a congressional aide. Trump has mentioned the Vatican’s centuries-old fortifications before, including at the earlier Cabinet meeting. But Democrats have said they don’t want medieval barriers, and Pelosi has called Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border immoral.

“I remain ready and willing to work with Democrats,” Trump tweeted after the meeting. “Let’s get it done!”

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.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Fox that Pelosi will be “more able to negotiate” once she is elected speaker, as expected Thursday.

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 and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

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