No progress in shutdown talks led by vice president
As a partial government shutdown entered its third week, negotiations between Vice President Mike Pence and congressional aides from both parties yielded little progress Saturday while the impact on government services and on federal workers was worsening by the day.
“Not much headway made today,” President Donald Trump conceded on Twitter, not long after the vice president’s office characterized the roughly two-hour talks, held next to the White House at the Old Executive Office Building, as “productive.”
The two sides are scheduled to meet again Sunday afternoon, but there was little hope that the broad divide between Trump and Democrats over his demand for more than $5 billion for a border wall would be bridged anytime soon. Saturday’s talks came a day after Trump said the government shutdown could continue for months or even years if Democrats did not relent on their steadfast refusal to grant him the wall money.
The negotiations Saturday focused on priorities for security rather than a dollar figure for the border wall, the vice president’s office said. While Trump has stood by his $5.7 billion demand, Senate Democrats have offered $1.3 billion for border security, including fencing, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, have repeatedly said that they will not agree to any wall funding.
The vice president’s office said that Pence had reiterated the president’s position that any deal needed to include funding for the wall. The office also said that Democrats had requested additional information from the Department of Homeland Security about its needs to deal with border issues.
Democratic staff members asked for a formal budget justification for the administration’s insistence on its $5.7 billion proposal, a Democratic official familiar with the discussion said, adding that Pence made clear that the White House would not budge from that figure. The Democrats told the vice president that there would be no movement on the dollar figure until after the government is reopened.
It is unclear just what kind of authority Trump has granted Pence to speak for him in negotiations. Last month, when Pence made a $2.6 billion counteroffer to Democrats in an effort to avert the shutdown, Trump quickly shot down the proposal.
During the talks Saturday, Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security secretary, offered a briefing on what the administration has deemed a “crisis” at the border. Neilsen had tried to give a similar briefing earlier in the week to congressional leaders and White House officials gathered in the Situation Room, but she was cut off by Pelosi, who questioned Nielsen’s facts.
In addition to Nielsen, the vice president was joined Saturday by Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, and Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to Trump. Kushner is said to have raised the prospect with Democratic lawmakers that if they give the president the full $5.7 billion in wall funding or something close to it, they might in exchange get an agreement for new protections for the young immigrants known as Dreamers.
For his part, the president seemed to be goading Democrats with a morning tweet that implied that he was ready to talk with them at the White House, even though it was he who had announced Friday that the meeting would be at the staff level.
Vice President Mike Pence, left, and others walk down the steps of the Eisenhower Executive Office building after an inconclusive meeting Saturday with staff members of House and Senate leaders of both parties.