President Donald Trump Thursday sent a message to senators trying to piece together a proposal to temporarily reopen a quarter of the federal government while talks about his proposed southern border wall continue.
He told reporters a three-week stopgap funding measure — a bipartisan idea that appeared to pick up steam in the Senate late Thursday afternoon — must include a “prorated down payment” for his U.S.-Mexico border barrier.
Trump’s comments came after his top spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said any short-term spending bill “would only work if there is a large down payment on the wall.”
Trump also told reporters “we have a lot of options,” despite making little progress on ending the shutdown.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed Trump’s demand for a downpayment on the wall.
“That is not a reasonable agreement,” the California Democrat told reporters Thursday at the Capitol.
In a strange remark, the president seemed to suggest that furloughed workers’ local grocery stores would work with them on paying for groceries down the road, once the government returns to cutting their paychecks after the shutdown ends.
“Local people know who they are when they go for groceries. And I think what Wilbur was trying to say is they will work along,” Trump said, referring to his commerce secretary, multi-millionaire Wilbur Ross. Earlier Thursday Ross expressed confusion about why some furloughed federal workers are going to food banks. (Ross’ net worth is estimated at around $700 million.)
Democrats have continued floating border security packages with increases funding for things like surveillance drones. But the president said those aircraft, “flying ... all over the place don’t mean a thing when they look down and they see thousands of people rushing up. The only thing that works is a strong barrier.”
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Graham’s three-week stopgap idea, and Trump comments, came a couple hours after the Senate voted down Trump’s plan to end the government shutdown via a package he laid out Saturday. It would have funded his border wall and given temporary protections to around 700,000 undocumented migrants in the United States illegally.
The chamber also voted down another measure that did not include barrier funds, ensuring the historically long shutdown will reach its 35th day Friday.
The South Carolina Republican said on the Senate floor that he had told Trump the body was discussing a three-week stopgap spending plan.
Graham said Trump “gave me some indications of things that he would want for a three-week CR.” And he suggested the president would want additional provisions related to border security which he said would be “a good faith down payment” on the issue.
“I’m just hoping and praying” that Democrats would agree to what Trump is asking for, Graham said, so the government could reopen for three weeks.
“If we can get in a room, we’ll fix this, and it won’t take three weeks,” Graham said.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said in a subsequent floor speech that he expects an amendment to be filed on a bipartisan basis later Thursday afternoon.
“While three weeks may not sound like a lot of time, in part, it will help focus our attention on getting the job done,” Van Hollen said.
House and Senate Democrats, however, have refused to give into Trump’s border wall demands since the partial shutdown started last month. They say if they give in this time, the president will be conditioned to force future shutdowns to get more barrier dollars from lawmakers.
For Trump, a lot is riding on how the stalemate plays out.
As a presidential candidate in 2016, Trump used his call for a U.S.-Mexico border wall to fire up his conservative base and drive up turnout among his supporters.
He has in recent weeks tried to give Democrats, in his words, an “out” by changing his proposed design from a concrete wall to a “barrier” that would be constructed using “artistically designed steel slats.” But, as he showed with a Thursday morning tweet, he continues to signal to his conservative base that a border wall is a necessity.
Kellie Mejdrich contributed to this report.