Nancy Pelosi plans new Bills to reopen US government agencies after talks fail

(Front row, from left) Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Vice-President Mike Pence and senior adviser Jared Kushner (second row) were among those at the meeting.
(Front row, from left) Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Vice-President Mike Pence and senior adviser Jared Kushner (second row) were among those at the meeting.PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON • US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats would pass new legislation to try to reopen parts of the government this week after talks between the Trump administration and Democratic negotiators failed to end a two-week partial government shutdown.

President Donald Trump is demanding US$5.6 billion (S$7.6 billion) to build a wall along the United States border with Mexico but Democrats in control of the House of Representatives last week passed a Bill to reopen the government without providing additional funding for the wall.

Mr Trump, who says he will not sign the Bill until he gets the money for the wall, stood firm on his demands but conceded yesterday that the barrier could be "steel instead of concrete".

"We have to build the wall," he told reporters as he left the White House for the Camp David presidential retreat. "It's about safety, it's about security for our country."

Mr Trump has in recent days backed away from his earlier insistence that it be a concrete wall, saying that a steel fence would work just as well, but he has stuck to his demand of US$5.6 billion.

White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney yesterday also raised the possibility of changing the construction materials used in order to reach a compromise.

Speaking to NBC's Meet The Press, he also said the shutdown, now entering its third week, could "drag on a lot longer".

After a meeting aimed at breaking the deadlock failed on Saturday, Ms Pelosi said House Democrats would seek to reopen government agencies next week through piecemeal appropriation Bills, starting with the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service.

She said: "This action is necessary so that the American people can receive their tax refunds on schedule."

Vice-President Mike Pence led the administration's team in the meeting with Democratic negotiators on Saturday. He said that it was "productive" but an aide said there was no in-depth discussion of a possible compromise level of funding for border security.

 
 
 

A Democratic aide familiar with the meeting said Democratic staff urged the administration to reopen the government, arguing that progress on the contentious issue of border security would be difficult while the government was closed.

The aide said the administration instead "doubled down on their partisan proposal that led to the Trump shutdown in the first place".

With the two sides sticking to their positions, a quarter of the federal government has been closed for two weeks, leaving 800,000 public workers unpaid.

Those on the job and not being paid include airline security officers and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents.

The shutdown has left museums shuttered, garbage piling up at national parks, and workers concerned about paying their bills.

Mr Jared Kushner, Mr Trump's son-in-law and a senior adviser, also attended the meeting at the White House, along with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Mr Mulvaney.

They were negotiating with senior staff for the top Democrats in Congress, Ms Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer.

Ms Pelosi, who took over as House Speaker last week following Democratic victories at the mid-term elections in November, has described Mr Trump's proposed wall as "immoral" and a "waste of money".

Building a wall along the US-Mexico frontier was a central plank in Mr Trump's 2016 election campaign.

A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll showed 50 per cent of the public blame Mr Trump for the shutdown and 7 per cent blame Republican lawmakers, against 32 per cent who blame Democrats.

Mr Trump threatened on Friday to take the step of using emergency powers to build the wall without Congress' approval. Such a move would almost certainly be met with legal challenges.

The funding Bill passed by Democrats on Thursday included US$1.3 billion for border fencing and US$300 million for other border security items, including technology and cameras.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2019, with the headline 'Pelosi plans new Bills to reopen US govt agencies after talks fail'. Print Edition | Subscribe