White House

Trump affirms shutdown could last ‘months or even years’

‘The president was very adamant that he is not going to do anything until essentially we agree with him,’ House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks as he is joined by (L-R) Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) in the Rose Garden of the White House on Jan. 4. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Updated 5:12 p.m. | Congressional Democratic leaders emerged from a lengthy White House meeting with President Donald Trump on Friday and said no deal was struck.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said staffs of congressional leaders and the president will negotiate over the weekend in hopes of ending the partial government shutdown. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said they made a “plea” to Trump to re-open shuttered agencies during a closed-door session in the Situation Room.

“He rejected it,” Schumer said, contending the president threatened to keep a quarter of the government closed for “months or even years.”

Trump confirmed after the meeting in a freewheeling White House Rose Garden press conference that he said the shutdown could last “months or even years.”

Watch: Schumer: Trump Holding Federal Employees ‘Hostage’

In the press conference, which stretched for more than an hour, Trump called the meeting “productive” and said the two sides plan to meet over the weekend.

“I hope it doesn’t go on beyond a few more days,” the president said, adding that he told leaders to bring as many lawmakers and staff to the weekend meetings as they feel are necessary. 

He said he wants to give negotiations “a shot.”

 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he saw the closed-door negotiation as one-sided. 

“The president was very adamant that he is not going to do anything until essentially we agree with him,” Hoyer said. 

DACA was not discussed at the meeting, Hoyer said.

“Clearly we want to make progress on making sure the borders are secure, but clearly we have a difference of opinion,” Hoyer added.

Asked if the DACA program and a pathway to citizenship was a part of the Friday discussion, Trump sidestepped. He instead talked about a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against his administration.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump and Democratic leaders understand one another better after the two-hour meeting over border security and a partial government shutdown.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said President Donald Trump threatened to keep the government shut down for “months or even years.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

But Pelosi and Schumer described the meeting as contentious, a signal the sides remain far apart on the 14th day of the shutdown.

McConnell and Senate Majority Whip John Thune didn't attend the press conference, because they weren't aware it was going to take place. 

 

“He and Thune left when the meeting was over. He was unaware of the press avail but of course would have gone if asked,” spokesman David Popp said in a statement. 

 

McConnell called the meeting before Friday’s press conference a “spirited discussion.” He said the government couldn’t reopen until Tuesday of next week anyway, and called the agreement to meet “encouraging.”

“We'll have at least a working group of people who know the most about this subject to see if they can reach an agreement, and then punt it back to us for final sign off,” he said.  

The top White House negotiators include Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and senior advisor Jared Kushner.

Trump said during the press conference that he stressed human trafficking activity at the southern border during Friday’s meeting.

He said his administration built a wall in San Diego to combat traffickers, but they allegedly just “take a right” and later a “left, and it’s ‘Welcome to the United States.’”

He suggested the only way to stop traffickers is to have a “solid steel” structure, repeating that he understands why Democrats don’t want to call it “a wall.” 

At one point, Trump demanded $5.6 billion for the border barrier and said the government won’t be opening until a deal is reached.

“We won’t be doing it in pieces,” he said. “We won’t be doing it in drips and drabs.”

The president said any border structure would be erected with 100 percent U.S. steel — something already covered by a separate bipartisan agreement. 

“Steel is stronger than concrete,” Trump said, falsely stating he “never said concrete” when describing the proposed border barrier as a candidate. 

He also signaled bolstering security at U.S. ports of entry would be part of any eventual pact.

Trump said he has considered using emergency powers vested in the office of the president to start building his border wall.

“Yes, I have. And I can do it if I want,” the President said. “I might do it.” 

But one former Senate Republican aide took umbrage with the president's contention, firing off a tweet suggesting congressional approval would be required one way or antother. And once back at the Capitol, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., confirmed that Congress would have to allocate any wall monies.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.