Trump says shut­down could last for ‘months or even years’

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - BUSINESS & FINANCE -

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump de­clared Fri­day he could keep parts of the gov­ern­ment shut down for “months or even years” as he and Demo­cratic lead­ers failed in a sec­ond closed­door meet­ing to re­solve his de­mand for bil­lions of dol­lars for a bor­der wall with Mex­ico. They did agree to a new round of week­end talks be­tween staff mem­bers and White House of­fi­cials.

Trump met in the White House Sit­u­a­tion Room with con­gres­sional lead­ers from both par­ties as the shut­down hit the twoweek mark amid an im­passe over his wall de­mands. Democrats emerged from the roughly two-hour meet­ing, which both sides said was con­tentious at times, to re­port lit­tle if any progress.

The stand­off also prompted eco­nomic jit­ters and anx­i­ety among some in Trump’s own party. But he ap­peared in the Rose Gar­den to frame the up­com­ing week­end talks as progress, while mak­ing clear he would not re­open the gov­ern- ment.

“We won’t be open­ing un­til it’s solved,” Trump said. “I don’t call it a shut­down. I call it do­ing what you have to do for the ben­e­fit and the safety of our coun­try.”

Trump said he could de­clare a na­tional emer­gency to build the wall with­out con­gres­sional ap­proval, but would first try a “ne­go­ti­ated process.” Trump pre­vi­ously de­scribed the sit­u­a­tion at the bor­der as a “na­tional emer­gency” be­fore he dis­patched ac­tive-duty troops in what crit­ics de­scribed as a pre­elec­tion stunt.

Trump also said the hun­dreds of thou­sands of fed­eral work­ers who are fur­loughed or work­ing with­out pay would want him to “keep go­ing” and fight for bor­der se­cu­rity. Asked how peo­ple would man­age with­out a fi­nan­cial safety net, he de­clared: “The safety net is go­ing to be hav­ing a strong bor­der be­cause we’re go­ing to be safe.”

Democrats, on the other hand, spoke of fam­i­lies un­able to pay bills and called on Trump to re- open the gov­ern­ment while ne­go­ti­a­tions con­tinue. Se­nate Demo­cratic Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer said, “It’s very hard to see how progress will be made un­less they open up the gov­ern­ment.”

Fri­day’s White House meet­ing with Trump in­cluded eight con­gres­sional lead­ers — the top two Democrats and Repub­li­cans of both cham­bers. Peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the ses­sion but not au­tho­rized to speak pub­licly de­scribed Trump as hold­ing forth at length on a range of sub­jects but said he made clear he was firm in his de­mand for $5.6 bil­lion in wall fund­ing and in re­ject­ing the Democrats’ re­quest to re­open the gov­ern­ment.

Trump confirmed that he pri­vately told Democrats the shut­down could drag on for months or years, though he said he hoped it wouldn’t last that long. Said Trump: “I hope it doesn’t go on even be­yond a few more days.”

House Democrats mus­cled through leg­is­la­tion Thurs­day night to fund the gov­ern­ment but not Trump’s pro­posed wall. How­ever, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell has said those mea­sures are non­starters on his side of the Capi­tol with­out the pres­i­dent’s sup­port.

A va­ri­ety of strate­gies are be­ing floated in­side and out­side the White House, among them trad­ing wall fund­ing for a deal on im­mi­grants brought to the coun­try as young peo­ple and now here il­le­gally, or us­ing a na­tional emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion to build the wall. While Trump made clear dur­ing his press con­fer­ence that talk on DACA (the De­ferred Ac­tion for Child­hood Ar­rivals pro­gram) would have to wait and that he was try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with Congress on the wall, the con­ver­sa­tions un­der­scored ris­ing Repub­li­can anx­i­ety about just how to exit the shut­down.

Seek­ing to ease con­cerns, the White House sought to frame the week­end talks as a step for­ward, as did McCon­nell, who de­scribed plans for a “work­ing group,” though peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the meet­ing said that phrase never ac­tu­ally came up. Trump des­ig­nated Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Kirst­jen Nielsen and ad­viser Jared Kush­ner to work with a con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion over the week­end. That meet­ing is set for 11 a.m. Satur­day, the White House said.

Some GOP sen­a­tors up for re­elec­tion in 2020 voiced dis­com­fort with the shut­down in re­cent days, in­clud­ing Cory Gard­ner of Colorado and Su­san Collins of Maine, putting ad­di­tional pres­sure on Repub­li­cans.

But with staff level talks there is al­ways an open ques­tion of whether Trump’s aides are fully em­pow­ered to ne­go­ti­ate for the pres­i­dent. Ear­lier this week, he re­jected his own ad­min­is­tra­tion’s of­fer to ac­cept $2.5 bil­lion for the wall. That pro­posal was made when Pence and other top of­fi­cials met at the start of the shut­down with Schumer.

Dur­ing his free-wheel­ing ses­sion with re­porters, Trump also wrongly claimed that he’d never called for the wall to be con­crete. Trump did so re­peat­edly dur­ing his cam­paign, de­scrib­ing a wall of pre-cast con­crete sec­tions that would be higher than the walls of many of his rally venues. He re­peated that prom­ise just days ago.

“An all con­crete Wall was NEVER ABAN­DONED, as has been re­ported by the me­dia. Some ar­eas will be all con­crete but the ex­perts at Bor­der Pa­trol pre­fer a Wall that is see through (thereby mak­ing it pos­si­ble to see what is hap­pen­ing on both sides). Makes sense to me!,” he tweeted on Dec. 31.

Trump was joined by Pence in the Rose Gar­den, as well as House Repub­li­can lead­ers Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise. McCon­nell, who went back to the Capi­tol, un­aware of the press con­fer­ence, said it was en­cour­ag­ing that the White House of­fi­cials and the con­gres­sional con­tin­gent would meet over the week­end “to see if they can reach an agree­ment and then punt it back to us for fi­nal sign off.”

Schumer said that if McCon­nell and Se­nate Repub­li­cans stay on the side­lines, “Trump can keep the gov­ern­ment shut down for a long time.”

“The pres­i­dent needs an in­ter­ven­tion,” Schumer said. “And Se­nate Repub­li­cans are just the right ones to in­ter­vene.”

Adding to na­tional un­ease about the shut­down are eco­nomic jit­ters as an­a­lysts warn of the risks of clo­sures that are dis­rupt­ing gov­ern­ment op­er­a­tions across mul­ti­ple de­part­ments and agen­cies at a time of other un­cer­tain­ties in the stock mar­ket and for­eign trade.

In their first votes of the new Congress, House Democrats ap­proved bills Thurs­day night to re-open gov­ern­ment at pre­vi­ously agreed upon lev­els. Sev­eral Repub­li­cans crossed over to join them.

White House and Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials have spent re­cent days try­ing to make both a pub­lic and pri­vate case that the sit­u­a­tion at the bor­der has reached a cri­sis point. Polls show a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans op­pose the bor­der wall, although Repub­li­cans strongly sup­port it.

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