WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump kept his hard line Monday on the partial government shutdown, now in a fourth week, over his insistence on billions of dollars for a long, impregnable wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“When it comes to keeping the American people safe, I will never, ever back down,” Trump said, repeating his strong view that the wall is needed on both security and humanitarian grounds. He spoke to farmers attending a convention in New Orleans.
As Congress returned to Washington for a second week of legislative business since House control reverted to Democrats, the shutdown hit Day 24, affecting federal workers and services. Trump has demanded $5.7 billion for his long-promised wall, while Democrats, who oppose the wall as both immoral and ineffective, insist Trump re-open the government before they negotiate further border security.
Before leaving for the speech, Trump said he had dismissed a proposal from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham to reopen the government for several weeks and continue dealing with Democrats over money for the wall.
“I did reject it, yes,” Trump said. “I’m not interested. I want to get it solved. I don’t want to just delay it.”
Trump also backed further away from the idea of declaring a national emergency as an escape hatch, saying: “I’m not looking to call a national emergency. This is so simple we shouldn’t have to.”
From the White House, Trump argued that he alone was ready to negotiate, noting that a group of House and Senate Democrats were touring hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.
“A lot of the Democrats were in Puerto Rico celebrating something. I don’t know, maybe they’re celebrating the shutdown,” Trump said.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were not on the trip to Puerto Rico. Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill tweeted Monday: “Speaker Pelosi has been in DC all weekend working from the Capitol.”
Trump asserted weeks ago that he would “own” the shutdown, and polls show that he is taking most of the blame from Americans. But he now blames his political foes. He targeted Pelosi and Schumer Monday on Twitter, arguing that the shutdown “has become their, and the Democrats, fault!”
Trump has kept Washington on edge over whether he would resort to an emergency declaration, citing what he says is a “crisis” of drug smuggling and the trafficking of women and children at the border. The president initially sounded as though such a move was imminent, but then pulled back. He has said several times since he first mentioned the idea in public this month that he prefers a legislative solution.
A key question is how long Trump is willing to hold out in hopes of extracting concessions from Democrats. Graham, who spoke with Trump by telephone on Sunday morning, said the legislative path “is just about shut off” and blamed intransigence by Pelosi.
The speaker’s office had no immediate comment.
Democrats oppose an emergency declaration and would likely challenge the move in court. Some Republicans are wary, too, fearing how a future Democratic president might use that authority.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., called Graham’s idea to reopen the government a “great place to start.”
“I do think if we reopen the government, if the president ends this shutdown crisis, we have folks who can negotiate a responsible, modern investment in technology that will actually make us safer,” Coons said.
Trump says technology is nice, but that the border can’t be secured without a wall.
The White House has been laying the groundwork for an emergency declaration, which is feared by lawmakers in both parties.
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said he’d “hate to see” a declaration issued because the wall wouldn’t get built, presumably because of legal challenges. Democrats voted in the past for border security and should again, he said.
“I actually want to see this wall get built,” Johnson said. “I want to keep pressure on Democrats to actually come to the negotiating table in good faith and fund what they have supported in the past.”
Graham favors a declaration and said the time for talk is running out.
“It’s the last option, not the first option, but we’re pretty close to that being the only option,” he said.
Graham and Coons spoke on “Fox News Sunday” and Johnson appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union.”