WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday the partial government shutdown will last “as long as it takes” as closures entered a 12th day over his demands for billions of dollars from Congress to build a border wall with Mexico.
“Could be a long time or could be quickly,” Trump said during lengthy comments at a Cabinet meeting at the White House, his first public appearance of the new year.
The president said his Homeland Security officials will “make a plea” for the border wall during a briefing for congressional leaders later Wednesday at the White House.
But Trump also rejected his own administration’s offer to accept $2.5 billion for the wall. That offer was made when Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials met with Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer at the start of the shutdown. Instead, Trump repeatedly pushed for the $5.6 billion he has demanded.
Trump made his case ahead of the afternoon session with Democratic and Republican leaders about the migrants arriving at the border in recent days. He said the current border is “like a sieve” and noted the tear gas “flying” overnight to deter arrivals. He called the border “very tough” at keeping immigrants out.
“If they knew they couldn’t come through, they wouldn’t even start,” Trump said at the meeting, joined by Cabinet secretaries and top advisers, including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
The meeting came as the shutdown dragged through its second week, closing some parks and leaving hundreds of thousands of federal employees without pay.
Trump complained that he had been “lonely” at the White House during the holiday break, having skipped his getaway to Mar-a-Lago in Florida. He claimed his only companions were the “machine gunners,” referring to security personnel, and “they don’t wave, they don’t smile.” He also criticized Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, for visiting Hawaii.
At the Capitol on Wednesday, Pelosi said she hoped Republicans and the White House “are hearing what we have offered” to end the shutdown.
So far, the administration has rejected a proposal from Democrats to re-open government without money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump contended the Democrats see the shutdown fight as “an election point” as he celebrated his own first two years in office. He promised “six more years of great success.”
The partial government shutdown began on Dec. 22. Funding for the wall has been the sticking point in passing funding bills for several government departments.
The Wednesday afternoon briefing with the congressional leaders is taking place the day before Democrats are to assume control of the House and end the Republican monopoly on government.
The session will be held in the high-security Situation Room at the White House, which is typically used to handle sensitive information. The location means the conversation will not be televised, unlike the volatile sitdown during which Democratic leaders talked back to Trump last month.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the top incoming House Republicans — Kevin McCarthy of California and Steve Scalise of Louisiana — planned to attend, according to aides. The departing House speaker, Paul Ryan, was not expected.
Pelosi, who is expected to become speaker on Thursday, and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer planned to attend. Pelosi said Tuesday that Democrats would take action to “end the Trump Shutdown” by passing legislation Thursday to reopen government.
“We are giving the Republicans the opportunity to take yes for an answer,” she wrote in a letter to colleagues. “Senate Republicans have already supported this legislation, and if they reject it now, they will be fully complicit in chaos and destruction of the President’s third shutdown of his term.”
The White House invitation came after House Democrats released their plan to re-open the government without approving money for a border wall. They planned to pass them as soon as the new Congress convenes Thursday.
Trump spent the weekend saying Democrats should return to Washington to negotiate, firing off Twitter taunts. Aides suggested there would not necessarily be a traditional wall as Trump has repeatedly insisted since his presidential campaign, but he contradicted them.
On Tuesday morning, after tweeting a New Year’s message to “EVERYONE INCLUDING THE HATERS AND THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA,” Trump tweeted: “The Democrats, much as I suspected, have allocated no money for a new Wall. So imaginative! The problem is, without a Wall there can be no real Border Security.”
But he seemed to shift tactics later in the day, appealing to Pelosi. “Let’s make a deal?” he tweeted.
Whether the Republican-led Senate would consider the Democratic funding bills — or if Trump would sign either into law — was unclear. McConnell spokesman Donald Stewart said Senate Republicans would not take action without Trump’s backing.
Even if only symbolic, passage of the bills in the House would put fresh pressure on the president. At the same time, administration officials said Trump was in no rush for a resolution to the impasse, believing he has public opinion and his base on his side.
The Democratic package to end the shutdown would include one bill to temporarily fund the Department of Homeland Security at current levels — with $1.3 billion for border security, far less than Trump has said he wants for the wall — through Feb. 8 as talks continued.
It would also include another measure to fund the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Housing and Urban Development and others closed by the partial shutdown. That measure would provide money through the remainder of the fiscal year, to Sept. 30.