Trump Holds Firm on Wall Before Meeting Congressional Leaders

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump insisted the U.S. needs some kind of physical barrier along the frontier with Mexico, just a few hours before a meeting with congressional leaders aimed at breaking a stalemate over border wall funding that’s kept parts of the federal government shut down for 12 days.

Trump said the U.S. needs a wall “for the security of our country,” and that drones and electronic measures weren’t enough. He also gave conflicting signals on how far he’s willing to go to strike a deal to end the shutdown.

Trump Holds Firm on Wall Before Meeting Congressional Leaders

“It could be a long time” before the shuttered parts of the government are reopened, Trump told reporters Wednesday at the start of a Cabinet meeting.

Trump initially suggested he might accept less than the $5.6 billion he’s been demanding for border security. “I’d rather not say,” he said when asked by a reporter whether he’d make a deal for a lower figure. “Could we do it for a little less?”

But later, the president said he wanted the full funding he’s asking for and that he was willing to let the shutdown drag on.

White House Meeting

The president invited the top eight leaders of the House and Senate from both parties to the White House Wednesday afternoon for a briefing on border security. It’s the first sign of a possible opening for negotiations since the partial shutdown began Dec. 22.

It will also be Trump’s first face-to-face talks with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who’s poised to be elected speaker on Thursday, and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer since their meeting three weeks ago in which the president said he’d gladly take the blame for a government shutdown if they wouldn’t go along with his demands on border wall spending.

Democrats take control of the House on Thursday and they plan to quickly pass two separate bills, one reopening eight departments -- which have been closed since Dec. 22 -- through September 2019 and another temporarily reopening the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8. That would allow negotiations over Trump’s request for border wall money to continue while the rest of the government would be operating.

“We are giving the Republicans the opportunity to take yes for an answer,” Pelosi said in a statement, adding that the GOP-controlled Senate had previously supported similar legislation.

‘Non-Starter’

But White House press secretary Sarah Sanders in a statement Tuesday night called the Democratic plan “a non-starter because it does not fund our homeland security or keep American families safe from human trafficking, drugs, and crime.”

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said Monday that the chamber won’t take up legislation that the president won’t sign, leaving it up to Trump and Democrats to come to terms.

The president last month scuttled an apparent deal to fund the government through Feb. 8. After the Senate easily passed the measure without any money for the wall, Trump rejected it in the wake of criticism from conservative pundits, voters and lawmakers.

The shutdown affects nine of the 15 federal departments, dozens of agencies, and hundreds of thousands of federal employees.

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