The government has been partially shut down for nearly two weeks, and President Donald Trump’s competing desires to hold his ground for more border security funding and shift blame for the impasse onto Democrats have made it even harder to reach a deal to reopen it.
Trump has been consistent in his public demand for $5 billion for a border wall, but his inconsistency over who owns the shutdown and in his negotiating approach to Congressional Democrats has left both parties without a clear exit strategy from the political crisis.
“The United States needs a physical barrier,” Trump said at a Cabinet meeting at the White House on Wednesday, previewing a briefing with Congressional leaders scheduled for later in the day. “We are in a shutdown because Democrats refuse to fund border security,” he said, accusing Democrats of playing politics on the issue because they have an eye on the 2020 presidential contest.
For Trump, taking a strong stand and refusing to compromise on funding for his signature border wall is a way to fulfill a key campaign promise to his supporters. Trump allies say the president’s tough immigration positions remain a winning issue for him with Republican voters.
“The intensity level with Republicans and conservatives and Trump supporters — which are different groups — is through the roof” on immigration, Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, told TIME in an interview in his office in Alexandria, Virginia. “So if we’re talking about the wall, if we’re talking about caravans, if we’re talking about the fact that we have thousands of people coming to the southern border, trying to find every which way to get in except the normal legal way, the politics of that are actually good, even though it’s a sad situation.”
But it is often a politically damaging proposition to the be party blamed for a shutdown, and the president abruptly changed his tune days later. “The Democrats now own the shutdown!” he tweeted the day before the shutdown began.
Now as the partial shutdown enters its 12th day, the President and his allies continue to signal that the current stalemate is the Democrats’ fault for being unwilling to provide $5 billion for a border wall, rather than Trump’s fault for his unwillingness to compromise on that number. Vice President Mike Pence reportedly offered Senate Democrats a compromise at $2.5 billion in wall funding before Christmas, but Democrats wanted to hear directly from Trump himself.
“We’re ready to deal,” Pence said Wednesday. “We have an offer on the table.”
The White House said Trump made another offer in the past few days, but was rebuffed. “President Trump made a serious, good faith offer to Democrats to open the government, address the crisis at our border, and protect all Americans,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement on Tuesday. “We have heard nothing back from the Democrats, who so far have refused to compromise.”
At first, Trump said he’d be happy to take the blame for a government shutdown over border wall funding. “I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck,” the president said in a televised Oval Office meeting with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi on Dec. 11. “I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.”
According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted Dec. 21-25, mostly after the shutdown began, more Americans blame Trump for it than blame Democrats in Congress. Forty-seven percent of adults hold Trump responsible, according to the poll, while 33 percent blame congressional Democrats. Democrats plan to make sure public opinion stays that way. “While President Trump drags the nation into Week Two of the Trump Shutdown and sits in the White House and tweets, without offering any plan that can pass both chambers of Congress, Democrats are taking action to lead our country out of this mess,” Schumer and Pelosi said in a joint statement.
But while the messaging war on both sides continued through the holidays and Trump stayed in Washington instead of traveling to Florida, actual negotiations have remained at an impasse. Hoping to break the standstill, the president invited congressional leaders to the White House for a briefing on Wednesday. Unlike his sit-down with Pelosi and Schumer in December, which was in the Oval Office and devolved into tense bickering on camera, this meeting will be held in the Situation Room, which is typically reserved for national security issues and doesn’t allow press inside.
Trump telegraphed hope for the meeting in a tweet on New Year’s Day, implying that he and Pelosi have a common interest in reopening the government as her party takes power in the House this week. “Let’s make a deal?” he wrote.
But it’s not clear who would agree to a deal at this point, with both sides digging in their heels over how much money to allocate for border security. Both parties feel that they benefit from the border wall fight and have little incentive to compromise, especially because most of the partial shutdown has taken place over a holiday break, dulling some of the harsher implications for much of the public.
Democrats have a plan to reopen the government when they take control of the House on Thursday that includes temporary funding for the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8, but Trump has already rejected it over its lack of extra funding for a border wall, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said he won’t bring any measure to a vote unless he knows Trump will sign it.
“Speaker Designate Nancy Pelosi released a plan that will not re-open the government because it fails to secure the border and puts the needs of other countries above the needs of our own citizens,” Sanders said in a statement. “The Pelosi plan is a non-starter because it does not fund our homeland security or keep American families safe from human trafficking, drugs, and crime.”
With Brian Bennett in Washington
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