Pence to Lead Talks Aimed at Ending Shutdown Now in Third Week
(Bloomberg) -- A delegation of top White House aides led by Vice President Mike Pence will meet again with congressional staff on Sunday after a two-and-a-half hour discussion Saturday was unable to forge a deal to end the partial government shutdown now into its third week.
The vice president described the meeting, at his ceremonial office across the street from the White House, as “productive.” But President Donald Trump took to Twitter some time later to declare that “not much headway” had been made -- a sentiment echoed by the acting White House chief of staff.
Although Trump said the meeting had been with representatives of Democratic leadership, Republican aides attended as well as all players look for a way to break the impasse over border security funding.
The gathering featured Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who provided a full briefing of what the administration contends is a crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, said one White House and two congressional aides who asked not to be identified to discuss the private meeting.
Democrats asked for a formal budget justification for the administration’s position in order to determine what the White House’s request is, said a person familiar with the discussion. Democratic aides told the White House that formal negotiations will grow increasingly hard with the government closed, but were rebuffed on a demand that the White House support reopening the government, the person said.
Concrete Versus Steel
Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, told NBC that Trump is willing to “take a concrete wall off the table” in negotiations with Democrats over the shutdown.
“If he has to give up a concrete wall, replace it with a steel fence in order to do that so that Democrats can say, ‘See? He’s not building a wall anymore,’ that should help us move in the right direction,” Mulvaney said in a partial transcript provided by the network. The interview that will run in full on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”
Trump recently has tweeted that a border barrier comprised of “artistically designed steel slats” would be acceptable, and showed a prototype of a tall structure topped by sharp spikes.
Separately, Mulvaney told CNN that at Saturday’s meeting “the opening line from one of the lead Democrat negotiators was that they were not there to talk about any agreement.” Democrats, he said, were “actually, in my mind, there to stall.”
The White House had invited congressional leaders to hear Nielsen’s briefing over a pair of meetings earlier this week, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer interrupted the presentation to instead attempt to engage President Donald Trump in negotiations to end the shutdown.
The administration is expected to prepare a budget sheet for Sunday’s meeting outlining their requests for border security measures, according to one congressional aide. That could serve as the basis for negotiations, with Democrats having previously signaled they would be willing to fund some measures -- but not Trump’s signature wall on the U.S.-Mexico border that the White House has said is central to ending the impasse.
Saturday’s discussion, which was also attended by administration aides including presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, legislative affairs director Shahira Knight, and Pence national security adviser Keith Kellogg, didn’t feature an in-depth discussion about specific dollar amounts, according to the White House aide.
A second Democratic aide, though, said the administration isn’t budging on the $5.7 billion wall proposal that led to the shutdown.
Trump didn’t attend the meeting, instead remaining in the White House residence and posting regular tweets about the shutdown and border security.
Saturday marked day 15 of the partial shutdown, which has closed nine of 15 federal departments and left hundreds of thousands of workers on furlough or working without pay. Trump and Republicans remain at an impasse with Democrats over Trump’s demand for about $5 billion to fund construction of the border barrier.
The president on Friday said he could declare a national emergency to circumvent Congress and build a border wall, after telling Democrats he’s prepared to keep part of the government shut for a year or longer if his demands aren’t met.
That assertion -- made during a news conference at the White House -- was met with skepticism from within the Republican Party and sharp criticism from Democrats.
In a handful of Twitter messages on Saturday about border security, Trump said that “great support” was coming from all sides about the need to secure the southern border “(including Wall)” and that Democrats could solve the shutdown problem “in a very short period of time.” He also said the border represents “a big Human Trafficking problem,” and that “most of the workers not getting paid are Democrats.”
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