President Donald Trump and congressional leaders were unable to reach a deal on Friday to reopen the government after meeting for the second time in a week.
Trump came out of the meeting sounding optimistic that the group is moving closer toward getting on the same page, despite the standing disagreement, and he stressed the larger importance of America’s national security and the overall protection of American citizens.
Democratic leaders were much more pessimistic about the discussions when talking to reporters afterward.
The two sides have been at an impasse over border security funding that caused a partial government shutdown on December 22.
Trump has fought to secure $5.6 billion to fund a security wall along the southern border and has threatened to veto spending bills until he gets the necessary funding.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have refused to give him anything — which eventually led to the shutdown.
“I thought it was really a very good meeting,” Trump told reporters during a press conference in the Rose Garden. “We’re all on the same path in terms of wanting to get the government open. We’re going to be meeting — I designated a group — and we’re going to be meeting over the weekend to determine what we’re going to do about the border.”
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Pelosi and Schumer attended the meeting alongside Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). They gathered together to speak with reporters afterward. Vice President Mike Pence, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Sen. Steve Scalise (R-La.) also attended and joined the president when it was over. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was also present at the White House meeting as well.
“We mentioned the price, that we want $5.6 billion very strongly,” Trump said. “This is national security we’re talking about. We’re not talking about games. We’re talking about national security. This should have been done by all the presidents that proceeded me and they all know it — some of them have told me that we should have done it.”
Trump said they did find common ground when it came to improving ports of entry along the southern border with better technology and more personnel there. But he argued that even the improved ports of entry need a physical border wall to stop those migrants who try to cross into the country illegally.
“So we’re not playing games. We have to do it,” Trump said. “And just remember, human traffickers, remember drugs, the drugs are pouring into this country, they don’t come through the ports of entry.”
Trump and congressional leaders have held ongoing discussions to end the shutdown, including a separate meeting earlier in the week. Trump has reaffirmed his commitment to funding the border wall in the time since, including during a press conference with Border Patrol officials.
Schumer had previously said he was only willing to provide the $1.6 billion for border security.
But those funds cannot go to the construction of a border wall. He later reduced that figure to $1.3 billion during an earlier contentious meeting with the president on December 11. Trump has rejected both counter offers.
“We made a plea to the president once again, don’t hold millions of Americans, hundreds of thousands of workers, hostage,” Schumer told reporters afterward. “So we told the president we need the government open. He resisted. In fact, he said he’d keep the government closed for a very long period of time, months and even years.”
Pelosi was quick to introduce a package of two bills to end the shutdown when the new congressional session started Thursday — but that package pointedly included no money for the border wall.
The new Democratic majority passed the two bills later that evening — but they’re unlikely to get much further. McConnell said he wouldn’t bring up any bills the president wouldn’t sign.
“We just completed a lengthy and sometimes contentious conversation with the president,” Pelosi told reporters during her comments. “We have agreed that we will continue on with these conversations. We recognize, the Democratic side, that we can’t really resolve this until we reopen the government, and we made that very clear to the president.”
“A lot of people who you think are upset, and certainly they aren’t thrilled, but they say, ‘Sir, do the right thing, we need border security,'” said Trump.
Pelosi has argued that Senate Republicans should support the plan she put forward because it’s based on legislation they passed or advanced through committees. Her package would fund the rest of the federal government with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security, which would instead be temporarily funded through February 8, since it covers border security.
“Services are being withheld from the American people, paychecks are being withheld from people who serve the needs of the American people, and our border security will suffer if we don’t resolve this issue,” Pelosi said.
“We are committed to keeping our border safe. That has always been our principal, to honor the oath of office that we take to protect and defend our country.”
McConnell introduced a continuing resolution days before the shutdown to keep the government funded at current levels until February 8. It was passed in the Senate but failed in the then-Republican-controlled House.
The difference is those earlier proposals were passed in the hopes they would become law. Trump has since made clear he won’t sign anything that doesn’t include border wall funding.
Trump also addressed the issue of the government workers who have been furloughed or who have to work without receiving their pay until the shutdown is over.
Democrats have urged him to reopen the government while continuing negotiations on border security. But the president argued the issue is just too big to do that.
“We think this is a much bigger issue, the border is a much more dangerous problem, a much bigger problem,” Trump said. “I will tell you that the people who I have spoken with — I’ve gotten to meet a lot of people who I wouldn’t have met. A lot of people have been coming through the White House and explaining different things and attitudes. A lot of people who you think are upset, and certainly they aren’t thrilled, but they say, ‘Sir, do the right thing, we need border security.'”
Trump said during the press conference that the working group over the weekend will discuss a range of issues related to border security, from the wall, to the ports of entry, to more comprehensive reforms.
He said they are also waiting to hear which experts and officials Democratic leaders will appoint to join the group.
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