Trump Says He Won’t `Cave’ on Shutdown Ahead of Senate Votes

January 24, 2019, 6:46 PM UTC
U.S. President Donald Trump isn't backing down from his border wall. MANDEL NGAN AFP/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump said he wouldn’t “cave” in his demand for a border wall, adding to the likelihood that two Senate measures aimed at opening shuttered federal agencies will fail in votes on Thursday.

“Without a Wall, it all doesn’t work,” Trump said, asserting that the structure would reduce crime, human trafficking, gangs, and drugs. “Should have been done for decades. We will not Cave!”

At a news conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi dismissed Trump’s arguments and said most drugs come into the U.S. through ports. “Let’s have this discussion after we open up the government,” she said Thursday.

The Senate votes threaten to leave lawmakers and Trump in the same place they started: deadlocked.

Senate Democrats are poised to block a GOP bill to open the government that includes $5.7 billion for Trump’s proposed border wall. A separate Democratic bill that would temporarily fund the government without funding the wall is unlikely to get the 13 Republican votes needed to advance, especially given Trump’s opposition.

If both measures fail, about one-fourth of the federal government will remain shut down.

Prospects for a compromise are dim, as a tit-for-tat battle between Trump and Pelosi has been escalating.

Last week, Pelosi wrote to the president suggesting he postpone his State of the Union address as a result of security vulnerabilities stemming from the shutdown. Trump responded by blocking Pelosi and other Democrats from using military aircraft to visit troops in Afghanistan. She said the administration then leaked her plans to travel on commercial aircraft, creating a security threat that prompted her to cancel the trip.

Trump said Wednesday he still planned to deliver the address on Jan. 29. Pelosi responded by saying she won’t allow the speech in the chamber unless government agencies are reopened.

Then late Wednesday night, Trump said on Twitter that he would put off the address until the shutdown was over. He added that he was no longer looking for “an alternative venue” for the speech, an option he had discussed with reporters earlier in the day.

Explaining the Longest-Ever U.S. Government Shutdown: QuickTake

As the shutdown enters its 34th day, Trump’s support is slipping. Only 34 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s job performance, down from 42 percent in December, according to a poll taken Jan. 16 to 20 by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called for lawmakers to approve the GOP measure, saying the legislation with wall funding is a “pragmatic compromise that could end this shutdown right away.” He said the Democrats’ temporary measure creates the possibility of a new crisis in several weeks when funding expires.

Pressure is building on both parties as federal workers will miss their second paychecks on Friday. Lines at some airport security checkpoints are growing as Transportation Security Administration employees, who are working without pay, call in sick. White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Kevin Hassett said that if the shutdown extends through March, there’s a chance of zero economic expansion this quarter.

Providing a slight hope for compromise, bipartisan groups of lawmakers have convened private meetings in the House and Senate to try to find a way out of the partial shutdown that began Dec. 22. But those groups haven’t publicly advanced any solution.

Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, told reporters that a bipartisan group will take the Senate floor after Thursday’s votes to talk about plans to develop a new proposal to resolve the shutdown. Collins is among a growing number of senators from both parties calling for lawmakers to stay in Washington this weekend to try to reach a deal.

House Democrats are preparing a border security plan of their own that doesn’t include a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a Democratic aide. The plan could include spending more than $5.7 billion — the amount Trump wants for the wall — on infrastructure, more immigration judges and aid to Central American countries.

‘Substantial Sum’

The amount is subject to change, according to the aide, who said Democrats may make a proposal in a letter to Trump later this week.

“We are prepared to spend a very substantial sum of money” for border security, second-ranking House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters Wednesday without giving details on the planned letter.

Hakeem Jeffries of New York, chairman of the House Democratic caucus, said his party is willing to discuss government funds for additional border agents, enhanced technology and increased security infrastructure — especially at ports of entry where most illegal drugs enter the country — but he didn’t endorse any wall funding.

Democrats will not pay a “$5.7 billion ransom” for a “medieval border wall,” Jeffries said.

Conservatives, including House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina, said the Democratic proposal isn’t a real counteroffer because it won’t contain funding for new border barriers.

House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi said the planned proposal by Democrats in his chamber, to be sent by Friday, could form the basis of negotiations if the government is reopened.

Pelosi told the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Wednesday that Democrats are holding firm in their resolve not to negotiate additional spending on border security until government agencies resume work.

‘Justified Concern’

Otherwise, said Pelosi of California, “There is serious and justified concern that this president will shut down the government every time he doesn’t get his way legislatively.”

In the Senate, the bills designed to end the shutdown need 60 votes to begin debate. The GOP controls the chamber 53-47, meaning bipartisan support would be needed. If either measure advances, final votes on the underlying bill would be held later.

Trump says he’ll veto any measure that doesn’t fund his wall. Even if the Democratic plan got enough GOP votes to pass, it’s highly unlikely there would be 67 Senate votes to override a presidential veto, or the 290 votes needed in the House, meaning the shutdown would continue.

A few Republicans left open the possibility they could vote for the Democrats’ plan.

“I’m going to support anything that allows us to proceed,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican from Alaska.

Another Republican who has been pushing to reopen the government, Rob Portman of Ohio, said, “I’m going to vote for the president’s plan,” which he called a “reasonable proposal.” Still, he said it appears likely Trump’s plan won’t get enough support to advance.

Portman told reporters he wants to support something that would lead to a resolution, saying he’s looking at the text of the Democrats’ plan.