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Trump and congressional leaders dig in over government shutdown

Trump and congressional leaders dig in over government shutdown
President Trump. ((Evan Vucci / Associated Press))

The shuttered parts of the federal government were no closer to being reopened Wednesday after President Trump and congressional leaders met for the first time since the shutdown began nearly two weeks ago.

“I don’t think any particular progress was made today, but we talked,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters. “We’re hopeful that somehow in the coming days and weeks we’ll be able to reach an agreement.”

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The White House described Wednesday’s meeting, held in the Situation Room, as a border security briefing.

Trump has rejected Democrats’ efforts to separate the border security funding fight from unrelated government agencies that have also been closed. Trump told reporters Wednesday that the shutdown will last “as long as it takes.”

"I mean, look, I'm prepared. I think the people of the country think I'm right," Trump told reporters at a Cabinet meeting.

This is already the fourth-longest government shutdown since the mid-1970s, and the third shutdown of Trump’s presidency.

Democrats have scheduled votes on two bills to reopen the closed parts of government to take place when they take control of the House on Thursday. Republican leaders say the Senate will not consider either unless Trump endorses them.

One bill would fund all the closed agencies except for the Department of Homeland Security through September when the fiscal year ends. (Senate appropriators previously approved spending levels for these agencies.)

The other bill would fund Homeland Security through Feb. 8, allowing the department to use $1.3 billion provided by Congress last year for border security. But it would not permit the money to be used for a wall. This is identical to legislation the Senate unanimously approved in December in an attempt to avoid the shutdown.

"We have given the Republicans a chance to take 'yes' for an answer," Pelosi said after the White House meeting. "We are asking the president to open up government. We are giving him a Republican path to do that. Why would he not do it?"

McConnell reiterated Wednesday that he will not bring a bill to reopen the government up for a vote unless the president backs it.

“The Senate will be glad to vote on a measure that the House passes and ... the president will sign, but we’re not going to vote on anything else,” McConnell said.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday called Democrats’ plan a “non-starter” because it doesn’t include the $5 billion Trump wants for a wall at the southern border, a down payment on the wall he says is necessary for national security. Trump previously promised Mexico would pay for the wall.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said after the meeting that he had asked Trump why Republicans couldn’t back the bill to reopen the unrelated government agencies, such as Interior and State, and debate border security with the government fully functioning.

"He could not give a good answer," Schumer said. "They couldn't give us one answer why they wouldn't support the first bill … that will open up the government."

Incoming House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) said it was "disappointing" that Democratic leaders wanted to talk about their bills rather than hearing the briefing from Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. He said that Trump invited the leaders to come back to the White House on Friday.

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In the Cabinet meeting, Trump also indicated that he might be willing to accept “a little bit less” than $5 billion, though he did not provide an amount. He closed the door on the compromise plan of $2.5 billion for border security that Vice President Mike Pence had proposed to Schumer the day the shutdown began. Schumer has already said Senate Democrats would not back that amount.

The effects of the shutdown have become more noticeable as the holidays have passed and federal agencies have drained their reserves.

National Parks have closed campsites that are overflowing with feces and trash as visitors stream into protected sites despite the park closures. Some new home loans and small business loans have been slowed; new farm loans are on hold. The IRS is short staffed, delaying tax refunds. In Washington, D.C., new marriage licenses aren’t being issued because the office wasn’t considered essential.

More than 800,000 federal employees aren’t getting paid during the shutdown, though more than half of them are deemed essential to public safety and are still at work while the rest are furloughed. Federal employees will probably receive back pay once the government reopens, but thousands of people paid through government contracts, such as the cleaning crews that maintain the departments, aren’t likely to recover the money they aren’t paid during the shutdown.

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