WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has gained little leverage with Democrats two weeks into the partial government shutdown of his own making, with fewer possible escape routes and a more treacherous path ahead as the GOP relinquishes control of the House.
Mr Trump turned to the bully pulpit on the first working day of the new year with a stream of tweets and an extended televised Cabinet meeting to press his case for funding the construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border.
Later, he and top congressional leaders met for what was billed as a briefing on border security issues in the Situation Room at the White House. Democrats, who were set to take over the majority in the House yesterday, were unmoved.
The White House meeting quickly devolved into political posturing. Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, who was poised to be elected House Speaker yesterday, said the chamber would vote on two measures to reopen the government that mirror legislation that the Senate had already passed with Republican support only to be rejected by Mr Trump.
Mr Trump invited the lawmakers to return to the White House today, following yesterday's congressional leadership elections.
It is unclear whether the Democrats will accept his offer, although he sounded somewhat conciliatory on Wednesday evening, tweeting: "I remain ready and willing to work with Democrats to pass a Bill that secures our borders, supports the agents and officers on the ground, and keeps America Safe. Let's get it done!"
But Ms Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer instead signalled that they saw a political opportunity to gain further leverage against the White House.
If he accepts a funding deal from Democrats that offers little or no money for wall construction,
Mr Trump risks alienating a base that has provided steady support, and undermining his self-proclaimed status as a master negotiator.
Allowing the shutdown to drag on carries risks as well.
The legislation they plan to pass would reopen the affected government departments, provide US$1.3 billion (S$1.8 billion) for border security on a pro-rated basis and give time for further negotiations on the issue. The measure would fund the Department of Homeland Security only until Feb 8, and would not include money for the construction of the border wall.
That is not enough for Mr Trump, and Democrats will cast the President as holding federal workers hostage for the wall. That approach - and the underlying intransigence - has been made easier by a president who has misplayed his hand repeatedly during negotiations.
Mr Trump's most severe misstep was self-inflicted. In a meeting with Ms Pelosi and Mr Schumer last month, the President defiantly boasted that he would be "proud" to "take the mantle" of shutting the government down if he did not get the more than US$5 billion he was seeking to build the wall.
Mr Trump's unequivocal embracing of responsibility for the shutdown has helped deflect other news - such as the fatal shooting of a California police officer, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant, and Ms Pelosi's vacation at a Hawaiian resort as hundreds of thousands of federal workers worried about their pay - that may have eroded the Democrats' political standing.
If he accepts a funding deal from Democrats that offers little or no money for wall construction, Mr Trump risks alienating a base that has provided steady support, and undermining his self-proclaimed status as a master negotiator.
Allowing the shutdown to drag on carries risks as well. While Mr Trump can continue to elevate immigration as a potent political wedge, a prolonged shutdown could add uncertainty to already volatile markets as federal workers and contractors begin missing pay cheques and invoices.
Yet with Democrats showing little inclination to budge as the shutdown stretches into its third week, Mr Trump posed the key question to himself rhetorically as he met his Cabinet on Wednesday.
"Well, I'd rather not say it - could we do it for a little bit less?" Mr Trump said.