WASHINGTON – The partial federal government shutdown stretched into its third week on Saturday as President Donald Trump seemed to dig in on his demands for added border security —signaling again that the standoff could go on for a long time.
A meeting between top White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, and senior congressional aides ended after hours of discussions without any agreement that would end the 15-day shutdown. Another meeting is scheduled for Sunday but to many on Capitol Hill, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.
Throughout the day, the president persisted in his efforts to blame Democrats for the shutdown in a barrage of tweets, making the case for a U.S.-Mexico border wall by saying everyone besides “drug dealers, human traffickers and criminals” wants one.
“The Democrats could solve the Shutdown problem in a very short period of time,” Trump wrote on Twitter early Saturday. “All they have to do is approve REAL Border Security (including a Wall), something which everyone, other than drug dealers, human traffickers and criminals, want very badly! This would be so easy to do!”
Trump also claimed that most of the thousands of federal employees who are working without pay during the shutdown are liberals.
“I don’t care that most of the workers not getting paid are Democrats, I want to stop the Shutdown as soon as we are in agreement on Strong Border Security! I am in the White House ready to go, where are the Dems?” the president wrote on Twitter.
Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and senior advisor Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, met with top congressional aides at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to negotiate an end to the shutdown.
After talking for several hours, the meeting ended without any agreement, thus allowing the shutdown to continue into Sunday for a 16th day — tying it for the third-longest shutdown in U.S. history.
An aide to the vice president said another meeting was scheduled for Sunday and called Saturday’s discussions “productive.”
A readout of the meeting from Pence’s office says that there was not an in-depth conversation about a dollar figure for a border wall but rather a conversation about making border security a priority. Pence’s office said the vice president also reiterated Trump’s position and said Democrats requested more details in writing on the needs of Homeland Security.
The meeting did not appear as contentious as the one held on Friday with the president and top Democrats at the White House where Trump said he was prepared to allow parts of the government to remain shuttered for months or even years if that’s what it takes to get the funding he wants for a wall along the border.
Later, Trump stressed during a Rose Garden news conference that he doesn’t believe a shutdown would drag on that long. “But I am prepared,” he said.
“I will do whatever I have to do,” he said.
Trump also floated the possibility of declaring a national emergency to secure the border wall funding “for the security of our country.”
“I can do it if I want,” he said.
The shutdown will extend at least into early next week and is poised to become one of the longest in history.
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The House and the Senate both adjourned on Friday and aren’t scheduled to return to Washington until Tuesday afternoon, meaning that the earliest shuttered departments and agencies could reopen would be Wednesday.
If the shutdown is still in effect on Wednesday, that will mark its 19th day, making it the second-longest on record.
Meanwhile, Trump insisted that Friday’s budget meeting with Democrats had been “very, very productive” and said that negotiators from the White House and Congress will meet over the weekend to discuss a deal to re-open the government. But it was unclear who would attend the meeting and what they would discuss.
Democratic leaders struck a more pessimistic note about Friday’s meeting, saying Trump threatened to prolong the shutdown while refusing to consider a plan to re-open the government now while negotiations continue.
New House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats “are committed to keeping our border safe,” and “we can do that best when government is open.”
The shutdown began on Dec. 22, when nine federal departments and several smaller agencies – representing a quarter of the federal government – ran out of money and had to close their doors because of a budget dispute between the White House and Congress. Some 800,000 federal employees have been forced to go on unpaid leave or work without pay.
The sticking point has been Trump’s insistence on $5 billion in funding for a border wall. Democrats are refusing to give him the money, arguing that a wall would be expensive, wasteful and ineffective.
Late Thursday, on their first day back in the majority, Pelosi and House Democrats pushed through a package of spending bills to reopen the government. But in the GOP-led Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dismissed the legislation as “political theater, not productive lawmaking” and said he would not put the package to a vote because Trump would not sign it.
The longest government shutdown on record lasted 21 days and lasted from Dec. 5, 1995 to Jan. 6, 1996. The battle involved a dispute between President Bill Clinton and Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich over spending cuts. That shutdown ended when the two sides agreed to a seven-year budget plan with some spending cuts and tax increases.