WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - United States President Donald Trump walked out of talks with Democratic congressional leaders on Wednesday (Jan 9) on funding for a border wall with Mexico and ending a government shutdown, complaining that the meeting in the White House was “a total waste of time”.
On the 19th day of a partial government shutdown caused by the dispute over the wall, a short meeting that included Mr Trump, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi ended in acrimony with no sign of a resolution.
“Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time,” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter.
“I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier?” Mr Trump wrote.
“Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!”
Exasperated Democrats called Mr Trump’s behaviour a “temper tantrum” and said the meeting broke down when they refused to commit to funding his proposed southern border wall.
Mr Schumer told reporters that Mr Trump asked Ms Pelosi if she would fund his wall.
“She said no. And he just got up and said: ‘Then we have nothing to discuss’, and he just walked out.”
“Again, we saw a temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his way,” Mr Schumer added. “That is sad and unfortunate. We want to come to an agreement. We believe in border security. We have different views.”
The breakdown in talks could strengthen the possibility that Mr Trump will declare a national emergency to build a wall on the southern border if no deal with Congress can be reached on his request for US$5.7 billion (S$7.7 billion) for the project.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Trump said he had the authority to declare a national emergency that would let him pay for the wall with military funds, and Vice-President Mike Pence told reporters that Mr Trump is still considering that option.
Asked what Mr Trump had gained by walking out of the talks, Mr Pence said: “I think the President made his position very clear today: that there will be no deal without a wall.”
House Democrats plan to test Republicans’ willingness to stick with Mr Trump on the issue by advancing a Bill to immediately reopen the Treasury Department, the Securities and Exchange Commission and several other agencies that have been partially shut down since Dec 22.
They are eager to force Republicans to choose between funding the Treasury’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – at a time when it should be gearing up to issue tax refunds to millions of Americans – and voting to keep it partially shuttered.
In a countermove, the Trump administration said that even without a new shot of funding, the IRS would somehow make sure those refund cheques get sent.
Mr Trump attended a lunch meeting of Senate Republicans on Wednesday and emerged to declare unwavering support for the tough stance he has taken on funds for the wall.
Asked afterwards if he got the impression in the meeting that the shutdown would end soon, Republican Senator Tim Scott said: “I did not. I think we’re going to be here a while.”
Later in the week, Ms Pelosi plans to force votes that one-by-one provide the money to operate departments ranging from Homeland Security and Justice to State, Agriculture, Commerce and Labour.
By using a Democratic majority to ram those Bills through the House, she is hoping enough Senate Republicans back her up and abandon Mr Trump’s wall gambit.
The political manoeuvring comes amid a rising public backlash over the suspension of some government activities that has resulted in the layoffs of hundreds of thousands of federal workers.
Other “essential” employees are being required to report to work, but without pay for the time being.
On Thursday, Mr Trump travels to the border to highlight an immigration “crisis” that his base of conservative supporters wants him to address.
With tempers running high over Mr Trump’s demand for US$5.7 billion just for this year to fund wall construction, there are doubts Ms Pelosi’s plan will succeed in forcing the Senate to act.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not budged from his hard line of refusing to bring up any government funding Bill that does not have Mr Trump’s backing, even as a few members of his caucus have called for an end to the stand-off.
The funding fight stems from Congress’ inability to complete work by a September 2018 deadline on funding all government agencies. It did, however, appropriate money for about 75 per cent of the government by that deadline – mainly military and health-related programmes.
US airport security workers and air traffic controllers working without pay have been warning that security and safety could be compromised if the government shutdown continues, but the Trump administration said that staffing is adequate and travellers have not faced unusual delays.
Union officials said some TSA officers have already quit because of the shutdown and many are considering quitting.
Ratings agency Fitch warned that it could cut the US' triple-A sovereign debt credit rating later this year if the shutdown proves prolonged and Congress fails to raise the legal limit on the nation’s debt in a timely manner.
“If this shutdown continues to March 1 and the debt ceiling becomes a problem several months later, we may need to start thinking about the policy framework, the inability to pass a budget... and whether all of that is consistent with triple-A,” Fitch’s global head of sovereign ratings James McCormack said at an event in London.