During a White House press conference on Friday afternoon in the Rose Garden, President Donald Trump said to reporters that he told Democratic congressional leaders in a meeting this morning that he would keep the government partially closed for “months, or even years,” or “as long as it takes” to get the funding necessary to construct his campaign promise of a southern border wall to stave off illegal immigration. Federal funding ran out at midnight on Friday, December 21, 2018, leading to 800,000 government employees being affected by the standoff between the commander in chief and Congress.
Although Trump reaffirmed his commitment to wall funding over the Christmas holiday, he called the Friday morning meeting to discuss spending packages “very productive.” Democrats, on the other hand, said the engagement was “contentious,” following the attitude from newly-elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (CA-12) and her promise to not fund any portion of the president’s “immoral, ineffective, and expensive” wall, per her remarks throughout the shutdown.
Regardless, as Democrats took the majority in the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress this week, essentially erasing any chance to pass legislation that includes border wall appropriations, a bipartisan contingent of congressional leaders have met with the president to solve the budgetary impasse that is now going on three weeks.
In December, President Trump requested $5 billion to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall, following America’s brush with multiple Central American migrant caravans led by high-profile international immigration rights organizer Pueblo sin Fronteras in 2018, with another set to leave embattled Honduras later this month. According to reports, however, the 15,000-strong caravan is set to pass up the southern U.S. border and travel to the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca in Mexico. Newly-installed Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has pledged to dole out work visas for Central American migrants, part of an $8 billion infrastructure project expected to create hundreds of thousands of jobs over the next few years.
While around 6,000 migrants remain encamped just a few hundred feet from the El Chaparral border crossing in Tijuana – suffering from delays in asylum processing due to the partial government shutdown – President Trump has called for being prepared to close off the southern border to cease the increases in illegal border crossings.
An AP-NORC poll released today shows that nearly half of Americans identify immigration as a top issue, with 49 percent of respondents mentioning immigration as one of the top five problems they hope the government addresses in 2019, up from 27 percent in December 2017. With the partisan divide, 65 percent of Republicans say immigration is one of the top five problems facing the country, up from 42 percent in 2017. Among Democrats, 37 percent cite immigration as a top issue, compared with around 20 percent just over one year ago.
Trump is willing to keep 25 percent of the U.S. government – nine departments in all – closed “for a very long period of time…months, or even years” until he gets the funding, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said to reporters outside the White House Friday afternoon. Frustrated with the impasse, Schumer opined that the GOP is using the government as a “hostage” to get the wall.
CNBC reports that Trump has selected Vice President Mike Pence, White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Kirstjen Nielsen to carry on meeting with congressional leaders from both the Democratic and Republican parties to come towards a deal on federal funding.
On Monday, Trump, warming towards reopening the government, said that he was “ready to go” to make a deal, remarking that he would be willing to accept funding figures for the border wall that are somewhere between the $5 billion he has requested, and the $1.6 billion congressional Democrats are willing to pass. However, Speaker Pelosi reiterated earlier this week that any funding measures pursued by the new Democratic majority will include “nothing for the wall.”
“There is no amount of persuasion he can do to say to us, ‘We want you to do something that is not effective, that costs billions of dollars,’” she said Thursday morning on the “Today Show” before taking the gavel in the House.
Legislation forwarded on the opening day of the 116th Congress from Democrats included funding for the closed departments through September 30, with another measure keeping the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) open until February 8 as contention still surrounds the proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall and other immigration policies stemming from the Trump Administration.
Regardless, since Democrats did not gain ground in the upper chamber of Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), ready to battle against the opposition party, said that any funding package President Trump does not support will not have a scheduled vote.
In the Rose Garden this afternoon, the president, when asked about what he said last month referring to being “proud” to close the federal government to get the border wall built, said “I’m very proud of doing what I’m doing. I don’t call it a shutdown,” explaining that he is negotiating for the wall to protect Americans and bolster national security. However, both Schumer and Pelosi have reprimanded the commander in chief, calling the 14-day-long closure the “Trump Shutdown.”
In terms of what the president could sign to reopen the government, Trump could trade a proposed deal for DREAMers – those protected under the Obama-era Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act – to get the funding needed for the border wall. He could also negotiate for more favorable terms in the eyes of the majority party on funding, while looking into other departments for alternative funding options.
In spite of that, the House and Senate, while just three days into this year’s session, have adjourned until Tuesday. Therefore, the closure will carry into at least next week unless an agreement is made.