Donald Trump abruptly ended a critical meeting with Democratic leaders on Wednesday, calling it a “total waste of time” as the partial shutdown of the US government dragged into its 19th day with no end in sight.
The further deterioration of negotiations over the funding lapse affecting nearly 800,000 federal employees came a day after the president used his first address from the Oval Office to reinforce his demands for a wall along the southern border with Mexico.
“Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time,” Trump said on Twitter, referring to the Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House speaker Nancy Pelosi. “I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!”
Schumer, offering his version of events, told reporters outside of the White House that “the president just got up and walked out”.
“He asked Speaker Pelosi: ‘Will you agree to my wall?’ She said no, and he just got up and said we have nothing to discuss and walked out,” Schumer said. “Again, we saw a temper-tantrum because he couldn’t get his way.
The meeting followed a closed-door lunch with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill, during which Trump urged Republicans to “stick together”.
A handful of Republicans have expressed concerns over the longevity of the shutdown. At least three Republican senators – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine – have said they would support reopening the government without funding for the wall.
But emerging from the private meeting with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill, Trump showed no sign of backing down while threatening to declare a national emergency if a breakthrough is not found.
“The Republicans are totally unified,” Trump said. “We talked about strategy, but they’re with us all the way.”
“He gave no indication of any willingness to budge an inch,” said John Kennedy, a Republican of Louisiana. “The president – and I happen to agree with him – believes that his only sin is that for the first time in 15 or 20 years he is actually enforcing America’s immigration laws.”
The shutdown, the third under Trump’s watch, is the longest since 1995 and has forced the closure of national parks, placed certain food and drug inspections on hold, and sparked concerns over air travel.
Before their meeting with Trump, Schumer and Pelosi held an event with furloughed federal workers in a bid to highlight the impact of the shutdown.
“To use them as hostages through a temper tantrum by the president is just so wrong, so unfair, so mean-spirited,” Schumer said. “It ought to end and it ought to end now.”
Trump offered no new solutions at a nationwide televised address on Tuesday evening, but instead insisted that a wall was necessary to stem the flow of illegal immigration.
In a speech full of false claims and misleading statistics, Trump painted a portrait of a crisis at the US-Mexico border even as the rate of illegal immigration has steadily fallen over the years and in 2018 reached its lowest point in more than a decade.
Talks have remained at a stalemate over the president’s insistence that any government funding bill include $5.7bn toward the construction of a border wall.
Democrats, newly in control of the House of Representatives, have said they will not allocate any money toward the wall, which remains a popular concept within Trump’s base but has little support from the broader American public.
Although he stopped short of declaring a “national emergency” in his televised address, Trump insisted on Wednesday he had the “absolute right” to do so.
“I think we might work a deal, and if we don’t, I may go that route,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “My threshold will be if I can’t make a deal with people that are unreasonable.”
Asked about the federal workers who were going without pay, Trump said: “They’re all going to get the money and I think they’re going to be happy.
“Many of those people that you’re talking about are on my side.”
There is no evidence to support the notion that federal workers support a border wall or Trump’s position amid the shutdown. It is also not clear if those who were either working or furloughed without pay would eventually be compensated.
Democrats, in a bid to amplify pressure on the White House and Senate Republicans, began a series of House votes on Wednesday to reopen the government one department at a time, beginning with passing a bill to reopen the Treasury, the Internal Revenue service and some other federal agencies.
However, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has signaled the bills would hit a dead end in the upper chamber.
“We are all behind the president,” McConnell told reporters with Trump by his side.
Without a resolution, the closure of several government operations could soon pose a threat to the delivery of food stamps and tax refunds for millions of Americans.
Clifton Buchanan, a cook supervisor with the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Houston, is among the hundreds of thousands of federal employees who have been furloughed since 21 December 2018, when parts of the government shut down.
Buchanan, who participated in the press conference with Democrats, turned 50 on Friday. But instead of celebrating the milestone, he sat around the kitchen table with his wife discussing which bills they could afford to pay without his income.
He said: “Right now I’m just trying to figure out how to pay my bills and feed my family. I’m not working. I’m not getting paid. I can’t pick and choose who to blame. I just know I have no income.”
+262 65 9222205/063 4410656