President Donald Trump and Democratic lawmakers aren’t just far apart on how to end the partial government shutdown, they aren’t even in agreement on their discussions about how to end it.
Trump said Friday’s Oval Office meeting went “very, very well.” But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the talks were contentious and Trump wouldn’t budge on his demand for funding a border wall before reopening the government.
How they resolve the impasse is the first big test in this new phase of Trump’s presidency — and maybe a harbinger of what’s to come. Trump’s third year in office will be his first in the White House with the opposing party controlling the House and wielding the investigation and subpoena power that comes with that.
Pelosi and Schumer emerged from a two hour meeting in the Oval Office on Friday to tell reporters outside the West Wing that no progress had been made and that they told Trump to reopen the government. Pelosi said the meeting was “lengthy and sometimes contentious.” Schumer said the President told them he was willing to keep the government closed for months or even years if he didn’t get the funding he felt was necessary to secure the Southwest Border. “It’s very hard to see how progress will be made unless they open the government,” Schumer said.
Trump had a starkly different version of the meeting when he spoke to reporters for an hour in the Rose Garden after Pelosi and Schumer had returned to the Hill. “We’re all on the same path in terms of wanting to get government open,” Trump said, adding that he had tasked Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, and his senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner to work with Democratic aides through the weekend to hammer out a deal. But even the details about how staff would meet were disputed. A Democratic aide said Vice President Pence floated the idea of staff negotiating over the weekend and that, in response, Pelosi and Schumer urged the President to commit re-opening government by Tuesday, which he refused.
As the partial shutdown stretches past two weeks, Trump has stood firm on a demand for more than $5 billion to build the border wall he promised during the campaign. “We won’t be opening until it’s solved,” Trump said.”You can call it the Schumer or the Pelosi or the Trump shutdown. It makes no difference to me. Just words.” Democrats, many of whom campaigned against wall during the 2018 mid-term elections, have insisted on no money for the wall in a spending bill they send to the President’s desk.
In recent weeks Trump has shown some willingness to compromise on the wall, saying he’d be open to installing metal slats and reportedly sent Pence to the Hill before the holiday break to float a price tag of $2.5 billion. “You can call it a barrier, you can call it whatever you want,” Trump said on Friday. “But essentially we need protection in our country.” Trump said that he and the Democratic leaders were able to agree that the ports of entries needed to be modernized and expanded. Schumer said Democrats would continue talking about border security, after the government was funded. “Open up the government and let’s continue the discussions,” Schumer said.
Trump has depicted border security as a pressing issue, citing ongoing drug trafficking and a recent spike in the number of families and unaccompanied children being apprehended at the border. Trump said he would consider using presidential emergency power to build a wall without congressional approval, a move that would likely be challenged as presidential overreach.
House Democrats passed legislation Thursday night to fund the government, along similar terms that passed the Republican-controlled Senate late last year, but without money for a border wall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the House version wouldn’t be taken up in the Senate without Trump’s support. McConnell was in the Oval Office meeting Friday, but wasn’t standing with the President in the Rose Garden during the press conference. When asked why McConnell wasn’t there, Trump responded he was running the Senate. The Senate is adjourned until next week.
There has been growing unease over the shutdown among some Senate Republicans up for reelection in 2020 about the long-term political fallout of the shutdown. Trump himself acknowledged he told Schumer on Friday that he was willing to hold back funding for months or even years. “Absolutely I said that,” Trump told reporters. “I don’t think it will, but I’m prepared.” Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she’d like to get the government reopened “as quickly as possible” and would support a stopgap funding bill. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado said Congress should fund the government while “we continue to fight” for more border security funds.
But the divisions between Trump and Democrats go beyond border security.
One thing on Trump’s mind: Whether Democrats would use their new power in the House to impeach him. During their meeting, it was Trump who brought up impeachment, Pelosi’s office said and Trump confirmed. Trump said he asked if Democrats would impeach him over the shutdown. “Nancy said, ‘We’re not looking to impeach you.’” Trump told reporters. “Speaker Pelosi made clear that today’s meeting was about re-opening government, not impeachment,” Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill wrote on Twitter.
Trump rejected the idea of being impeached when unemployment is low, economic indicators have improved and he has denied colluding with Russia to help him get elected during the 2016 campaign. “You can’t impeach someone who’s doing a great job,” Trump said.
Trump did encourage landlords to go easy on the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who won’t get a paycheck during the shutdown. But Trump repeated a claim, with no evidence, that most federal workers are willing to wade through the uncertainty in order to get more border security funding. “People that won’t get next week’s pay, or the following week’s pay, I think if you ever really looked at those people, I think they’d say, ‘Mr. President, keep going, this is far more important.’”
With reporting by Alana Abramson in Washington.