Trump Says He Would Be ‘Proud’ to Shut Down Government Over Border Wall Funding

Presumptive Speaker, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (C) listens while Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) (L) and US President Donald Trump argue before a meeting at the White House December 11, 2018 in Washington, DC (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

December 12, 2018

By Jennifer Haberkorn

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Tuesday he would be “proud” to shut down the government later this month if he can’t get taxpayer money to build a wall on the southern border with Mexico.

The remarks were aimed at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer during an extraordinary Oval Office sparring session held partly in front of reporters.

“We have to have a wall. … I will take the mantle of shutting it down. I will shut it down for border security,” Trump said during the encounter, in which the leaders exchanged political barbs with cameras rolling.

“Elections have consequences, Mr. President,” Schumer said, noting that Democrats seized the House majority during last month’s midterm election.

The combative Oval Office appearance came at the start of what was supposed to be a negotiation over how to fund a portion of the government by the Dec. 21 shutdown deadline, and whether border wall money would be approved as part of the package.

Instead the three leaders chastised, corrected and interrupted one another repeatedly, a preview of what a divided government will look like next year when Democrats control the House. The meeting, which ended not long after the media was escorted away, did not appear to resolve the standoff.

Democrats have offered $1.6 billion for border security, but Trump is demanding $5 billion for a wall. During the campaign, Trump had promised Mexico would pay for the wall.

The tense exchange could make a holiday shutdown — in which a small portion of government operations would cease — more likely. Trump fully accepted political responsibility for a shutdown, giving Democrats little reason to give in to his demands or help provide votes to avoid one.

Schumer, D-N.Y., and Pelosi, D-Calif., repeatedly made the case against shutting down the government, saying it would only hurt American workers and the economy. Vice President Mike Pence sat in on the meeting but did not say a word while reporters were in the room. Shortly after the meeting, he huddled with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill.

At several points, Pelosi and Schumer tried to cut off the public theatrics and suggested continuing the conversation in private. Instead, Trump allowed cameras to stay in the room for 15 minutes. “It’s called transparency,” he said.

It was the latest in a string of public negotiating sessions in front of television cameras that Trump seems to enjoy and thrive on.

Trump and Pelosi bickered over whether the president even had the support of his own party to use taxpayer funds for a wall.

“If I needed the votes for the wall in the House, I would have them in one session. It would be done,” Trump said.

Pelosi responded confidently that he doesn’t have the support in the House. “Well, then go do it. Go do it. … You will not win.”

Even as Trump seemed to embrace a shutdown, he has also been preparing his conservative base for the possibility that he won’t get funding for the wall. Earlier Tuesday, the president tweeted that the military would build the wall if Democrats didn’t agree to fund it. He also claimed falsely that much of the wall he promised has already been built.

The spending bill marks the last opportunity Trump would have to get his border wall approved while Republicans control both the House and Senate. Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have largely deferred to Trump on the issue, saying the president needs to decide whether he is willing to shut down the government to get his top campaign promise through Congress. Most Republicans on Capitol Hill would like to avoid a shutdown, which typically hurts the party in control of Congress.

“I hope that’s not where we end up,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said a shutdown may be more likely as a result of the standoff. “I think it is a step in that direction,” Shelby said. “We’ve got another eight or 10 days. We might come together and we might not.”

But at least some Republicans seem ready to back up Trump.

“He needs to dig in, not give in,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters after the meeting. “I’ve had enough of it. Take it on. Stare it down. See what happens.”

Schumer and Pelosi previously said they will not provide the votes to fund the border wall, particularly after Democrats flipped 40 seats in the House in last month’s midterm elections. Any legislation would require some Democratic support to get through the Senate.

Democrats have put two offers on the table, neither of which has wall funding: $1.6 billion in “fencing” along the southern border or a continuation of last year’s spending levels for the Department of Homeland Security, about $1.3 billion.

Inside the West Wing, the meeting’s conclusion set off a chaotic scramble as aides switched into what one staffer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, called “damage-control mode.”

“The aftermath of that meeting was not pretty,” the person said.

With Pelosi and Schumer driving home their main takeaway from the meeting with reporters positioned just outside the doors to the West Wing, the White House communications shop was crafting a statement blaming Democrats for the current stalemate that could cause a shutdown.

“President Trump was grateful for the opportunity to let the press into the meeting so that the American people can see firsthand that while Republicans are fighting to protect our border, Democrats are fighting to protect illegal immigrants,” the White House said in a statement.

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Times staff writer Eli Stokols contributed to this report.

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©2018 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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