No sign of progress after Trump meets lawmakers on shutdown

After meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday, US House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said Democrats 'didn't want to hear' a briefing on border security issues.
US President Donald Trump meeting members of his Cabinet in the White House, on Jan 2, 2018.
US President Donald Trump meeting members of his Cabinet in the White House, on Jan 2, 2018.PHOTO: EPA

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Democratic and Republican congressional leaders emerged from a meeting with United States President Donald Trump on Wednesday (Jan 2) giving no indication of any progress towards ending a partial government shutdown in its 12th day as Mr Trump held fast to his demand for US$5 billion (S$6.8 billion) in funding for a border wall.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters that Mr Trump asked congressional leaders to return to the White House on Friday for more talks aimed at ending the shutdown.

Democrats said they would proceed with plans to hold votes on Thursday, when they formally take control of the House of Representatives from the President's fellow Republicans, on legislation that would end the shutdown without providing the wall money sought by Mr Trump. The White House has called the two-part package a "non-starter".

"We're asking the President to open up government," Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the presumptive incoming House speaker, told reporters outside the White House after top lawmakers met Mr Trump and his homeland security officials behind closed doors.

Mr Trump's demand for US$5 billion in funding for a wall along the US-Mexico border triggered the shutdown that affects about a quarter of the federal government and 800,000 federal workers.

Before meeting with lawmakers, Mr Trump said the shutdown would last for "as long as it takes" as he pushes for wall money - fiercely opposed by Democrats - as part of any legislation to reopen agencies shuttered when their funding lapsed on Dec 22.

"It could be a long time," Mr Trump told reporters during a Cabinet meeting, "or it could be quickly."

"We know that we have a challenge along the border," Mr McCarthy said. "We want to solve that issue. We want to make sure we open this government up. And I think at the end of the day, the President, listening to him, he wants to solve this as well."

 
 
 

Ms Pelosi noted that the legislation being presented in the House had previously won backing in the Senate, which will remain in Republican hands in the new 2019-2020 Congress that convenes on Thursday.

SITUATION ROOM

Mr Trump's meeting with lawmakers was held in the White House Situation Room, generally used for high-level security concerns such as military planning.

The House legislation sets up the first major battle of the new Congress between House Democrats and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said Senate Republicans will not approve a spending measure Mr Trump does not support.

Mr Trump made the border wall a key part of his presidential campaign. Before meeting the Democrats, Mr Trump called the border a "sieve", rebutted Ms Pelosi's complaint that a wall was immoral, provided an estimate of the US illegal immigrant population far higher than the figures most experts cite and made disputed comments about progress towards building a wall.

The visit by Ms Pelosi and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer was their first to the White House since their sharp exchange with Mr Trump in the Oval Office on Dec 11, during which the President told them he would be "proud to shut down the government for border security". He has since blamed Democrats for the shutdown.

Mr Schumer said he hoped Mr Trump and his Republican allies would not use the shutdown and the affected government workers as "hostages" to try to extract wall funding. Mr Schumer said Mr Trump "could not give a good answer" for his opposition to the House Democratic legislation that would provide stopgap funding for the Department of Homeland Security and funding for the rest of the current fiscal year for the remaining shuttered agencies to provide time to reach a border security compromise.

The US$5 billion Mr Trump is seeking would cover only a portion of the money needed for a border wall, a project estimated to cost about US$23 billion. Mr Trump had said Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico has refused.

Mr Trump said he was open to working on a path to legal status for hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants known as Dreamers who were brought into the country as children, pointing toward a potential broader deal with Democrats that could resolve the shutdown.

Federal courts have blocked Mr Trump's effort to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme, begun in 2012 under Democratic former president Barack Obama, that protected the Dreamers from deportation and gave them work permits.