Talks between President Trump and congressional Democrats aimed at ending the partial government shutdown collapsed in acrimony and disarray Wednesday, with the president walking out of the White House meeting and calling it “a total waste of time” after Democrats rejected his demand for border-wall funding.
Furious Democrats accused Trump of slamming his hand on the table before he exited, and they said he ignored their pleas to reopen the federal government as they continue to negotiate over his border wall demands. With the shutdown nearing the three-week mark, some 800,000 workers are about to miss their first paycheck.
“He thinks maybe they could just ask their father for more money. But they can’t,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), an implicit dig at Trump’s wealthy upbringing.
“Well unfortunately, the president just got up and walked out,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). “He asked Speaker Pelosi, ‘Will you agree to my wall?’ She said no. And he just got up and said, ‘Then we have nothing to discuss’ and he just walked out.”
Trump himself tweeted: “Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time. 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? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!”
Melina Mara/The Washington Post President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence speak to journalists before going into the Senate policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday.
The breakdown left no end in sight to the shutdown even as its effects spiral around the nation on services for farmers, food inspection services and national parks. Trump ended the day Wednesday even further dug in on his demands for $5.7 billion to build more than 200 new miles of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and Democrats were equally forceful in rejecting his demands. Democrats are refusing to provide more than $1.3 billion to continue existing funding levels for security barriers at the border.
It’s not clear when — or if — negotiations will resume. On Saturday, the shutdown will become the longest in U.S. history.
As an early test of divided government in Washington, with Democrats in their second week in control of the House, the standoff portends more clashes to come. The new Congress faces a string of consequential votes, including raising the federal borrowing limit to avoid defaulting on U.S. government debts, and the political pressure will only intensify as the 2020 presidential race heats up.
After the White House meeting broke up in startling fashion, Republican and Democratic officials took turns addressing reporters at the White House and on Capitol Hill, trading blame and accusing each other of mischaracterizing the meeting and being intransigent.
“The president walked into the room and passed out candy,” Vice President Pence said. “I don’t recall him ever raising his voice or slamming his hand.”
Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said later that the candy distributed was Baby Ruth bars, M&M’s and Butterfinger bars.
But Schumer told reporters upon returning to the Capitol: “It was an amazing meeting. The president threw another temper tantrum, slammed the table and walked out.”
“It wasn’t even a high-stakes negotiation,” Pelosi said. “It was a petulant president of the United States.”
The breakdown at the White House occurred shortly after the president dug in defiantly at a private meeting with Senate Republicans, attempting to rally GOP senators to his side even as he faced skepticism from a few lawmakers.
“There was no discussion of anything other than solidarity,” Trump told reporters after meeting with GOP senators.
Trump plans to visit the border in McAllen, Tex., on Thursday to highlight conditions there, and Wednesday’s chaotic events followed Trump’s first Oval Office address Tuesday night, which he used to make the case for an unfolding border crisis. Taken together, the events amount to a sustained and public effort by the president to make the case for his demands, after a holiday season he spent largely holed up in the White House tweeting.
But inside the meeting with senators Wednesday, there was not unanimity on Trump’s approach.
Moderate Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) pleaded with Trump to reopen the government, according to lawmakers present.
Trump said he was doing everything he could — but that he wouldn’t end the standoff by taking nothing, according to two people familiar with the exchange who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private discussion.
During the lunch, Trump talked about a subject he brings up often — winning, according to a person in the room who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.
His main message, according to this person, was that Republicans needed to stick together in the border security fight, and that they could lose if they don’t.
After the meeting, Murkowski told reporters: “I shared my support for the need for border security in the country and what we should do from a humanitarian perspective, but a recognition that when the government is shut down there are consequences and people are starting to feel those consequences.”
Collins urged Trump to consider a previous deal she was a part of that would trade $25 billion for the wall for permanent protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. Trump dismissed that idea.
But the discontent expressed by a handful of GOP lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol appeared unlikely to change the basic contours of the standoff between a president demanding a border wall and Democrats who refuse to give it to him.
Congressional GOP leaders and the bulk of rank-and-file lawmakers made clear they support the president’s approach, even as federal services have been cut in some areas since the shutdown began Dec. 22.
“We’re all behind the president,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said as he left the Capitol Hill meeting at Trump’s side.
Asked Wednesday how long he was willing to let the shutdown continue as he seeks money for a border wall, Trump replied: “Whatever it takes.”
Collins and Murkowski, two of the most outspoken advocates of ending the shutdown, were also the last two senators to address Trump during the lunch meeting on Capitol Hill. As a result, Trump turned to Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who was running the lunch, and somewhat jokingly told Blunt that the Missouri senator must really not like him.
Then, Sen Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) joked that Jeff Flake — the retired U.S. senator from Arizona who has been a vocal Trump critic — was waiting right outside.
A group of Senate Republicans met privately late Wednesday afternoon with Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser and presidential son-in-law, and legislative director Shahira Knight on Capitol Hill. Senators left the meeting saying they were trying to find a way out of the shutdown by devising an agreement involving border security, but no decisions were reached. Democrats did not attend the meeting.
GOP unity behind Trump faced a fresh test Wednesday afternoon, when House Democrats held a vote to reopen the Treasury Department, legislation that would fund the Internal Revenue Service at time when millions of taxpayers are filing their 2018 returns.
Trump has said he would not sign any legislation to reopen the government unless it contains the wall money he wants, and McConnell has made clear he won’t bring up any bill that does not have the president’s support.
The spending bill passed 240-188, with only eight Republicans breaking ranks to vote with Democrats for passage — just one more than the seven who voted with Democrats on a package of spending bills last week aimed at reopening government without funding Trump’s wall. There had been concerns among Republicans that the number of defections could be higher, and the fact that it wasn’t amounted to a success by the White House and a ratification of GOP unity.
The vote to reopen the Treasury Department and IRS comes after concerns surfaced that the IRS would not be issuing tax refunds during the shutdown. Since then, the IRS has reversed position and said it will continue to issue refunds during a government shutdown, but other services remained impacted.
Behind closed doors, administration officials have been urging GOP lawmakers to hold the line on Trump’s demand that any legislation to reopen government include wall money — even as the prolonged partial shutdown becomes more painful for their constituents.
There was little optimism at the Capitol that the stalemate would end anytime soon.
“Both sides are not reading the other side properly. I think both sides think that there’s greater weakness on the other side than there really is,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a leading House conservative who is close with Trump.
“The Democrats think that we’re about ready to fold — most of you were writing about that yesterday. I think Republicans think that Democrats are ready to fold, and neither of those two things are accurate by any stretch of the imagination,” Meadows said, adding: “I think you can’t cave. That’s what the Democrats don’t understand — it’s all or nothing.”
With border funding negotiations at an impasse, Trump has also threatened to circumvent lawmakers by declaring a national emergency to use Defense Department funds for the wall — a move that would activate executive powers and almost certainly face legal challenges.
“I may do that at some point,” Trump said after meeting with Senate Republicans, saying that it could happen if he doesn’t get what he wants from “Chuck and Nancy” — his way of referring to Pelosi and Schumer.
“It’s a very bad political issue for the Democrats, that I can tell you,” Trump said, referring to the wall issue generally.
Trump continues to demand U.S. taxpayer dollars for the southern border wall he long claimed Mexico would pay for.
A House Republican, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal caucus dynamics, said: “No one thinks we’re losing, and therefore we continue.” Like others in the GOP caucus, this lawmaker said there is no end in sight to the partial government shutdown, and no plan to end it.
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