Pelosi, Schumer face Trump over border wall amid government shutdown
Bipartisan congressional leaders head to the White House on Friday for talks on how to end a partial government shutdown entering its 14th day.
If the last face to face meeting among Democrats and President Donald Trump is any guide, the discussion could prove tense — and unproductive.
Lawmakers are looking to break an impasse over Trump’s demand for $5 billion to build his proposed border wall. The two major parties stand far from a deal on border security as hundreds of thousands of federal workers face missed paychecks.
In one of their first acts in their new House majority, Democrats passed bills Thursday night to reopen nine federal departments — without money for Trump’s wall. Eight of those departments would get funding through Sept. 30. The Department of Homeland Security would reopen through Feb. 8, giving Congress a month to strike a deal on border security.
The legislation is expected to go nowhere. Trump has threatened to veto it because it does not include funds for the barrier. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not take up a proposal the president refuses to sign.
The shutdown will drag on for now as Trump insists on money for the wall — and Democrats flatly refuse to appease him. It is unclear whether either side will give ground when congressional leaders face Trump on Friday.
“We’re not doing a wall. Does anybody have any doubt about that? We’re not doing a wall,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who reclaimed the House speaker’s gavel Thursday, told reporters before her chamber’s votes to reopen the government.
The meeting Friday follows a border security briefing Wednesday. Trump administration officials planned to tout the benefits of a wall. Attendees said the meeting became tense, and noted that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer repeatedly challenged Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
When Pelosi and Schumer met Trump in person about the wall last month, a televised Oval Office discussion devolved into a public brawl. Trump eventually said he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security.”
Trump has so far shown no willingness to cave. He said Wednesday that the shutdown would last “as long as it takes” to see his demands met. Then on Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Fox News that “we’ll have to stay in a shutdown” until Trump gets his desired border security funding.
Trump has not made it entirely clear what he wants. While the president initially called for a concrete wall, he has since changed the definition to “steel slats” or a “barrier” or “whatever you want to call it.”
As the shutdown drags on, political pressure on Republicans has increased. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican who faces a potentially difficult path to re-election in 2020, has called to reopen the government even without a border wall deal.
Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who could face a tough challenge next year, has urged Congress to pass the legislation funding the agencies other than DHS. Meanwhile, seven House Republicans — many of whom either bill themselves as moderates or faced close re-election bids in November’s midterms — joined Democrats to pass the spending bills Thursday night.
It is unclear now what Democrats and the White House could agree upon to reopen the government. Trump has started to reconsider the possibility of exchanging wall money for legal protections and a path to citizenship for young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, according to Politico. Shielding those immigrants is a priority for Democrats and some Republicans.
Democratic leaders were open to such a proposal as recently as last year. But last month, Pelosi said she would not accept it, calling them “two different subjects.”
While it is not clear exactly who will attend the 11:30 a.m. meeting Friday, the top two members of each party in the House and Senate went to the White House briefing on Wednesday. Along with Pelosi, McConnell and Schumer, the group includes House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
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