President Trump met with GOP senators on Wednesday, urging his fellow Republicans not to waver in their demand for a border wall, as a partial government shutdown stretched into its 19th day.
Congressional Democrats showed no sign of yielding to the president’s demand for $5.7 billion in border wall funding. On Friday, some 800,000 federal workers are expected to miss their first paycheck since the shutdown began on Dec. 22.
Trump insisted that a compromise is still possible, but he also threatened to use emergency powers if necessary to fund the wall on his own.
“I don’t think we’ll have to do that, but you never know,” Trump told reporters. “I really believe the Democrats and the Republicans are working together.”
There was little evidence of that on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers from both parties traded barbs and blamed the shutdown on the other side’s inflexibility. Congressional leaders of both parties have been invited to the White House for further talks on Wednesday.
Trump’s prime-time address from the Oval Office on Tuesday appeared to have little effect on the terms of the debate.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., dismissed the speech as “little more than a rehash of spurious arguments and misleading statistics that the president has been using for weeks.”
“In no way did the president’s speech last night make a persuasive or even a new case for an exorbitantly expensive border wall,” Schumer said. “A wall that the president guaranteed would be paid by Mexico.”
Democrats accused the president of using the shutdown to gain political leverage, while forcing TSA officers, food safety inspectors and Border Patrol agents to work without pay.
A handful of GOP senators who are up for re-election in 2020 have broken with their party and called for an end to the shutdown. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not budged.
McConnell described the president’s wall proposal as “imminently reasonable,” and noted that Democrats have supported similar border barriers in the past.
“Steel fencing was fine, even salutary, when President Obama was in the White House,” McConnell complained. “But it’s ‘immoral’ when President Trump occupies the office.”
McConnell blasted Schumer for holding up Senate votes on unrelated foreign policy measures during the budget impasse.
“Do Democrats want to hold everything hostage?” McConnell asked. “I urge my Democratic colleagues more strongly to get past this purely partisan spite.”
Trump described the federal employees who have been furloughed or are working without pay as “terrific patriots,” and insisted without evidence that many support his effort to secure funding for the wall.
“I will tell you this,” Trump said. “The people out there want something to happen at our southern border.”
A Reuters/Ipsos poll published Tuesday found only about 4 in 10 Americans support the idea of building additional barriers along the border, and support has fallen since 2015. The same poll found 51 percent of Americans say the president “deserves most of the blame” for the government shutdown — an increase of 4 percentage points since a poll taken just before Christmas. Among Republicans, however, support for the wall is stronger, with 77 percent approving and 54 percent supporting the shutdown as a means to that end.