With the government mired in shutdown week four, President Donald Trump declared he would “never ever back down” from the urgent need to secure America’s borders.
The solution is simple, Trump said — but Democratic leaders just have to find the courage to accept it.
Trump rejected a suggestion to reopen the government for several weeks while negotiations would continue with Democrats over the need for $5.7 billion for a long, impregnable wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. That amount is less than 0.2% of the annual U.S. federal budget.
The president also edged away from the idea of trying to declare a national emergency to circumvent Congress.
“I’m not looking to call a national emergency,” Trump said Monday. “This is so simple we shouldn’t have to.”
No cracks were apparent in the Democrat-led deadlock with the White House after a weekend with no negotiations at all. Instead, 30 Democratic lawmakers spent the weekend on an all-expenses paid weekend getaway to Puerto Rico with 109 lobbyists and corporate leaders.
Why is Nancy Pelosi getting paid when people who are working are not?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 15, 2019
Democrats have not budged from their refusal to fund the wall and their demand that the government be totally refunded before considering any border talks.
The White House has been considering reaching out to rank-and-file Democrats rather than dealing with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to try to chip away at Democratic opposition to the wall. A White House official said plans were in the works to call freshman representatives, especially those who initially did not support Pelosi’s bid for the speakership.
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It was uncertain whether any Democrats would respond to the invitation.
Separately, around a dozen senators from both parties met Monday to discuss ways out of the shutdown gridlock. Participants included Graham and Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Tim Kaine, D-Va.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was aware of the group’s effort but added, “I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s blessed it.” The odds of the group producing an actual solution without Trump’s approval seemed slim. In the past, centrists of both parties banding together have seldom resolved major partisan disputes.
Lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill late Monday “discouraged,” according to GOP Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota, as all signals pointed to a protracted fight.
Meanwhile, the impact of the 25-day partial government closure was intensifying around the country. Some 800,000 federal workers missed paychecks Friday, deepening anxieties about mortgage payments and unpaid bills, and about half of them were off the job, cutting off some services.
Travelers at the Atlanta airport, the nation’s busiest, dealt with waits of more than an hour Monday as no-shows by security screeners soared.
Trump spent the weekend working furiously in the White House reaching out to aides and lawmakers and tweeting aggressively about Democratic foes as he tried to make the case that the wall was needed on both security and humanitarian grounds.
He stressed that argument repeatedly during a speech at a farming convention in New Orleans on Monday, insisting there was “no substitute” for a wall or a barrier along the southern border.
Trump has continued to insist he has the power to sign an emergency declaration to deal with what he says is a crisis of drug smuggling and trafficking of women and children at the border. But he now appears to be in no rush to make such a declaration.
Instead, he is focused on pushing Democrats to return to the negotiating table and seized on the fact that a group of House and Senate Democrats were on a lobbyist-paid retreat in Puerto Rico. Democrats, he argued, were partying on a beach rather than negotiating.
White House officials cautioned that an emergency order remains on the table. Many inside and outside the White House hold that it may be the best option to end the budget standoff, reopening the government while allowing Trump to tell his base supporters he didn’t cave on the wall.
However, some GOP lawmakers — as well as White House aides — have counseled against it, concerned that acting under an emergency order would set a troubling precedent for executive power.
For now, Trump apparently sees value in his extended fight to fulfill a key campaign pledge, knowing that his supporters — whom he’ll need to turn out in 2020 to win re-election — don’t want to see him back down.
Trump was taking a wide range of advice on both sides of the issue, including from his new chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, senior aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Rep. Mark Meadows, as well as outside political advisers.
In the House, Democrats look to keep the pressure on Trump by holding votes this week on two bills: one that would reopen the government until Feb. 1, and a second that would reopen it until Feb. 28.
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The Associated Press contributed to this article