US President Donald Trump said on Friday that he is prepared to keep parts of the government closed for years if he does not get the billions of dollars he has requested to help fund a wall on the border with Mexico.
Following a meeting with congressional leaders, Trump confirmed that he told top Democrats that he would keep the government closed for months or years if he did not get wall funding.
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“Absolutely, I said that,” Trump told reporters outside the White House.
“I don’t think it will. But I am prepared,” he added. “I hope it doesn’t go on even before a few more days. It really could open very quickly. We had a very, very productive meeting, and we’ve come a long way”.
The comments came after the president and congressional leaders failed to strike a deal to end a partial shutdown, now into its 14th day, that has centred on Trump’s demand for funding for a border wall, one of his key campaign promises.
Trump’s tone was more positive compared with the Democrats, who said the conversation was “lengthy and sometimes contentious”.
Nancy Pelosi, the newly elected Democratic speaker of the House, said that her party recognises “that we really cannot resolve this until we open up [the] government and we made that very clear to the president”.
Key parts of the US government shut down on December 22 after Trump refused to back down on his request for more than five billion dollars in funding for a wall on the southern border, which the Democrats oppose.
‘We can call a national emergency’
Trump on Friday also said that he has considered declaring a national emergency to build the wall – a move that if he moved forward with would likely be challenged in the courts.
“We can do it. I haven’t done it. I may do it … But we can call a national emergency and build it very quickly,” Trump said.
The US Constitution assigns Congress the power over funding the federal government, so Trump would likely face legal challenges if he tried to bypass Congress on financing the wall.
He dismissed those concerns, saying that his administration can call a national emergency because “of the security of our country, absolutely”.
Asked if declaring a national emergency was a threat hanging over Democrats, Trump said, “I’d never threaten anybody, but I am allowed to do that, yes.”
Unease among some Republicans
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also said on Friday that administration officials and congressional staff will meet this weekend to attempt to reach a deal to recommend to Trump to reopen the government.
Late on Thursday, the House passed two Democratic bills to immediately reopen government agencies for varying lengths of time, despite a White House veto threat.
McConnell, a Republican, rejected the House effort saying the president would not sign into law, although the Senate last month approved identical legislation.
McConnell faces increasing pressure from within his caucus, especially from vulnerable Republicans up for re-election in 2020, as several conservative senators urged action to reopen the government, according to US media.
His colleague, Susan Collins, also called for the Senate to pass the funding bills, while several other Republicans urged an end to the shutdown, the Hill and New York Times reported.
“We should pass a continuing resolution to get the government back open. The Senate has done it last Congress, we should do it again today,” US Senator Cory Gardner told The Hill on Thursday.
Pelosi on Friday urged McConnell to bring the measures up for a vote.
“The president can sign or not but he should never say, ‘I’m not even going to put it on the president’s desk,'” she told MSNBC, noting Congress can pass bills without Trump’s support.
Democrats back other border security measures aside from the wall, and their two-bill package passed on Thursday includes $1.3bn for border fencing and $300m for other border security items such as technology and cameras.
Without a deal to end the partial government shutdown, the Department of Homeland Security will not be able to bring some furloughed workers back to their jobs while others continue to be forced to work without paychecks for the time being.
Other federal agencies were also hobbled, including the Justice Department, Commerce Department and departments of Agriculture, Labor, Interior and Treasury.
The partial shutdown also is straining the country’s immigration system, worsening backlogs in courts and complicating hiring for employers. More than 800,000 federal workers are affected.
In a December 11 meeting with Pelosi and Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, Trump said he would be “proud” to shut the government over the security issue and would not blame Democrats. He has since said they are responsible.