White House Meeting Breaks Up Without Deal to End Shutdown

Toluse Olorunnipa, Margaret Talev and Laura Litvan
White House Meeting Breaks Up Without Deal to End Shutdown

(Bloomberg) -- Congressional leaders were unable to strike a deal to end a partial shutdown of the federal government at a meeting with Donald Trump on Wednesday, and the president invited them to return to the White House on Friday for further negotiations.

But incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats in her chamber would pass legislation to re-open the government on Thursday, pressuring Senate Republicans to follow suit. She and other Democratic leaders did not commit to a second meeting with Trump.

The White House staged the meeting as a briefing on border security for congressional leaders in the situation room. But it quickly turned contentious, according to accounts from people familiar with the matter.

Democrats challenged Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s claims of a crisis on the border, and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer repeatedly demanded that Trump explain why he wouldn’t re-open six government departments and agencies unrelated to border security, the people said.

“I would look foolish,” Trump responded, according to one person familiar with the meeting.

A White House official said that while the quote was technically accurate, the president meant that he would look foolish because relenting wouldn’t comport with his beliefs about what’s required to protect Americans.

Afterward, top Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate emerged from the talks giving no indication they’ve changed their positions on Trump’s demand for $5 billion to fund a border wall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the standoff could go on for weeks.

“I don’t think any particular progress was made today, but we talked all aspects of it and it was a civil discussion,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, told reporters after the meeting. “And we’re hopeful that somehow in the coming days or weeks we will be able to reach an agreement.”

House Democrats, who take control of the chamber on Thursday, plan to vote on two measures that would re-open the government, provide $1.3 billion for border security on a pro-rated basis and give time for further negotiations on border security. But that’s not enough for Trump.

“They wanted to go on with their bill that they’re bringing up tomorrow,” House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California said. “The president’s been very clear it’s not the bill he’ll support.”

Pelosi, who’s poised to be elected speaker on Thursday, said the legislation Democrats will pass “will be based on actions taken by the Republican Senate.”

“We are asking the president to open up the government,” the California Democrat said. “We are giving him a Republican path to do that.”

The shutdown has gone on for 12 days, and the White House briefing was the first face-to-face meeting between the president and Democratic leaders since it began.

Democratic leaders didn’t say whether they’d return to the White House on Friday as the president requested. He extended the invitation because the meeting’s participants agreed it would be easier for Democrats to negotiate after the House holds leadership elections, according to one person in the meeting.

The Democrats portrayed the shutdown as a fake crisis, accusing Trump and congressional Republicans of using the budget standoff as leverage to secure money for an unnecessary project that was the president’s top campaign promise.

The second-ranking Senate Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois, said that Nielsen’s briefing on the situation at the border “was not a credible presentation.”

“It was preposterous,” Durbin said. “At a time when we have the lowest level of apprehensions at the border -- stopping people from coming in illegally -- the lowest level historically, she is saying that we have all these terrorists and criminals and all these people on their way in.”

Nielsen claimed that Customs and Border Protection had arrested 17,000 people with criminal records at the border, one of the people familiar with the meeting said. Pelosi responded that it wasn’t true and the administration was counting anyone who crossed the border illegally as having a criminal record.

But Trump’s Republican allies echoed his administration’s claims of a border crisis.

After the meeting, McCarthy told reporters, without citing any evidence, that some of the women in a so-called caravan of migrants headed for the border were victims of rape or other violence. Incoming House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana said that 3,700 "known or suspected terrorists" had been stopped from entering the country in 2018, without specifying how many had attempted to cross the border with Mexico.

(Updates with additional remarks beginning in second paragraph.)

--With assistance from Laura Litvan.

To contact the reporters on this story: Toluse Olorunnipa in Washington at tolorunnipa@bloomberg.net;Margaret Talev in Washington at mtalev@bloomberg.net;Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net, ;Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Joshua Gallu

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