WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is taking the shutdown battle to the U.S.-Mexico border, seeking to bolster his case for the border wall after negotiations with Democrats blew up over his funding demands.
Trump stalked out of his meeting with congressional leaders — “I said bye-bye,” he tweeted soon after — as efforts to end the partial government shutdown fell into deeper disarray. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers now face lost paychecks on Friday.
During his stop Thursday in McAllen, Texas, Trump will visit a border patrol station for a roundtable on immigration and border security, and will get a security briefing on the border. But Trump has expressed his own doubts that his appearance and remarks will change any minds, as he seeks $5.7 billion for the wall that has been his signature promise since his presidential campaign.
McAllen is located in the Rio Grande Valley, the busiest part of the border for illegal border crossings.
The unraveling talks prompted further speculation about whether Trump would declare a national emergency and try to authorize the wall on his own if Congress won’t approve the money he’s seeking.
“I think we might work a deal, and if we don’t I might go that route,” he said.
The White House meeting in the Situation Room ended after just 14 minutes. Democrats said they asked Trump to re-open the government but that he told them if he did they wouldn’t give him money for the wall. Republicans said Trump posed a direct question to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: If he opened the government, would she fund the wall? She said no.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump slammed his hand on the table. However, Republicans said Trump, who handed out candy at the start of the meeting, did not raise his voice and there was no table pounding.
One result was certain: The shutdown plunged into new territory with no endgame in sight. The Democrats see the idea of the long, impenetrable wall as ineffective and even immoral. Trump sees it as an absolute necessity to stop what he calls a crisis of illegal immigration, drug-smuggling and human trafficking at the border.
Trump headed to Capitol Hill earlier Wednesday, seeking to soothe jittery Republican lawmakers. He left a Republican lunch boasting of “a very, very unified party,” but GOP senators have been publicly uneasy as the standoff ripples across the lives of Americans and interrupts the economy.
During the lunch, Trump discussed the possibility of a sweeping immigration compromise with Democrats to protect some immigrants from deportation but provided no clear strategy or timeline for resolving the standoff, according to senators in the private session.
GOP unity was tested further when the House passed a bipartisan spending bill, 240-188, to reopen one shuttered department, Treasury, to ensure that tax refunds and other financial services continue. Eight Republicans joined Democrats in voting, defying the plea to stick with the White House.
There was growing concern about the toll the shutdown is taking on everyday Americans, including disruptions in payments to farmers and trouble for home buyers who are seeking government-backed mortgage loans — “serious stuff,” according to Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican.
Some Republicans were concerned about the administration’s talk of possibly declaring a national emergency at the border, seeing that as an unprecedented claim on the right of Congress to allocate funding except in the most dire circumstances.
“I prefer that we get this resolved the old-fashioned way,” Thune said.
Democrats said before the White House meeting that they would ask Trump to accept an earlier bipartisan bill that had money for border security but not the wall. Pelosi warned that the effects of hundreds of thousands of lost paychecks would begin to have an impact across the economy.
“The president could end the Trump shutdown and re-open the government today, and he should,” Pelosi said.
Tuesday night, speaking to the nation from the Oval Office for the first time, Trump argued that the wall was needed to resolve a security and humanitarian “crisis.” He blamed illegal immigration for what he said was a scourge of drugs and violence in the U.S. and asked: “How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?”
Democrats in response accused Trump appealing to “fear, not facts” and manufacturing a border crisis for political gain.
In an off-the-record lunch with television anchors ahead of his speech, Trump suggested his aides had pushed him to give the address and travel to the border and that he personally did not believe either would make a difference, according to two people familiar with the meeting. But one person said it was unclear whether Trump was serious or joking. The people familiar with the meeting insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the meeting publicly.