Lawmakers to hear wall plea at White House as shutdown continues
Washington — President Donald Trump said his Homeland Security officials will "make a plea" for the border wall with Mexico during a briefing for congressional leaders Wednesday at the White House as the partial government shutdown over his demand for wall funding entered its 12th day.
The president made his case anew ahead of the afternoon session with Democratic and Republican leaders about the migrants arriving at the border in recent days. He said the border is "like a sieve" and noted the tear gas "flying" overnight to deter them. He called the border "very tough" at keeping immigrants out.
"If they knew they couldn't come through, they wouldn't even start," Trump said at a meeting joined by Cabinet secretaries and top advisers, including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
The Cabinet meeting was the president's first public appearance of the new year as the shutdown dragged into its second week, shut down some parks and leaving hundreds of thousands of federal employees without pay.
So far, the administration has rejected a proposal from Democrats to re-open government without money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The president "wants an agreement that reopens the government AND keeps Americans safe," the White House said on Twitter.
Trump contended the Democrats see the shutdown fight as "an election point" as he celebrated his own first two years in office. He promised "six more years of great success."
The partial government shutdown began on Dec. 22. Funding for the wall has been the sticking point in passing funding bills for several government departments.
The Wednesday afternoon briefing with the congressional leaders is taking place the day before Democrats are to assume control of the House and end the Republican monopoly on government.
The session will be held in the high-security Situation Room at the White House, which is typically used to handle sensitive information. The location means the conversation will not be televised, unlike the volatile sitdown during which Democratic leaders talked back to Trump last month.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the top incoming House Republicans — Kevin McCarthy of California and Steve Scalise of Louisiana — planned to attend, according to aides. The departing House speaker, Paul Ryan, was not expected.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to become speaker on Thursday, and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer planned to attend. Pelosi said Tuesday that Democrats would take action to "end the Trump Shutdown" by passing legislation Thursday to reopen government.
"We are giving the Republicans the opportunity to take yes for an answer," she wrote in a letter to colleagues. "Senate Republicans have already supported this legislation, and if they reject it now, they will be fully complicit in chaos and destruction of the President's third shutdown of his term."
The White House invitation came after House Democrats released their plan to re-open the government without approving money for a border wall — unveiling two bills to fund shuttered government agencies and put hundreds of thousands of federal workers back on the job. They planned to pass them as soon as the new Congress convenes Thursday.
Responding to the Democratic plan, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders late Tuesday night called it a "non-starter" and said it won't re-open the government "because it fails to secure the border and puts the needs of other countries above the needs of our own citizens."
Trump spent the weekend saying Democrats should return to Washington to negotiate, firing off Twitter taunts. Aides suggested there would not necessarily be a traditional wall as Trump has repeatedly insisted since his presidential campaign, but he contradicted them.
On Tuesday morning, after tweeting a New Year's message to "EVERYONE INCLUDING THE HATERS AND THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA," Trump tweeted: "The Democrats, much as I suspected, have allocated no money for a new Wall. So imaginative! The problem is, without a Wall there can be no real Border Security."
But he seemed to shift tactics later in the day, appealing to Pelosi. "Let's make a deal?" he tweeted.
Whether the Republican-led Senate would consider the Democratic funding bills — or if Trump would sign either into law — was unclear. McConnell spokesman Donald Stewart said Senate Republicans would not take action without Trump's backing.
"It's simple: The Senate is not going to send something to the president that he won't sign," Stewart said.
Even if only symbolic, the passage of the bills in the House would put fresh pressure on the president. At the same time, administration officials said Trump was in no rush for a resolution to the impasse, believing he has public opinion and his base on his side.
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 the $5 billion Trump has said he wants for the wall — through Feb. 8 as talks continued.
It would also include another 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.