President Trump has called for congressional leaders to return to the White House on Friday, top Republicans said shortly after a hotly anticipated, contentious closed-door meeting on border security in the Situation Room concluded Wednesday afternoon.
The sit-down apparently ended without any progress made in resolving the ongoing partial federal government shutdown that has persisted for 12 days, and several senior GOP officials said Democrats didn’t seem interested in listening to what Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen had to say.
A source inside the Situation Room told Fox News that it was the consensus of all participants that House Democrats would be able to negotiate once House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is elected speaker of the House on Thursday, as expected. 60 votes in the Senate are needed to pass a spending bill and reopen the government.
A White House official separately told Fox News that Trump began the meeting and then turned it over to Nielsen to provide information on the border. Just five or six seconds into the briefing, the official said, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer leaned over to Pelosi and suggested she interrupt Nielsen.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and top House Republicans Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Steve Scalise, R-La., also attended the meeting in the high-security enclave of the White House, which typically is used to handle sensitive information. The location meant that the conversation was not televised, unlike the volatile sitdown during which Democratic leaders talked back to Trump last month.
“We do have a crisis on the border right now. We had a violent mob rush yesterday — we had a challenge there,” McCarthy said outside the White House after the meeting, referring to the 150 migrants who were repelled by tear gas on New Year’s Day at the southern border. “The president has asked us to come back Friday, after the [House] leadership races, to try to get this all done.”
“I”m a little disappointed with, I would say, some on the other side,” McCarthy continued. “Once the secretary [of Homeland Security] started, Senator Schumer interrupted her, and they really didn’t want to hear it.”
Instead, McCarthy said, Democrats wanted to push their proposed spending bill without funding for the president’s proposed border wall.
“Democrats in the room either don’t care that there is a humanitarian crisis on the border or just prefer ignorance,” a Homeland Security spokesperson told Fox News late Wednesday. “It was incredibly disheartening that they don’t want to know the facts when making policy.”
Schumer, in his own remarks to reporters, said Republicans are “now feeling the heat” as a result of the shutdown. He charged that Republican leaders essentially were holding the federal government “hostage.”
“So, the bottom line is very simple,” Schumer said. “We asked the president to support the bills that we support that will open up government.”
In an interview Wednesday, Pelosi told NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie that Democrats would give the president “nothing for the wall.”
“We can go through the back and forth. No. How many more times can we say no? Nothing for the wall,” Pelosi said.
A senior House Republican member told Fox News as the meeting was underway that the president was likely to stand firm, and that the partial shutdown may soon become the longest in history — exceeding even the 21-day shutdown that ended in January 1996.
In an interview published over the weekend, outgoing White House chief of staff John Kelly stated that the White House itself has abandoned plans for a concrete wall, opting instead for a system of steel slats at the border — a proposal Trump has advocated, while also insisting a wall will be built.
“It doesn’t have to last much longer at all — I think we can come to an agreement rather quickly,” McCarthy responded when asked how long the shutdown would continue. “I know that’s why the president thought maybe after the leadership races, people would be more willing to come to an agreement.”
In a Cabinet meeting earlier Wednesday that served as a preview of the briefing with Hill leaders, the president maintained his stance that funding for a wall along the southern border would be a necessary component of any spending bill to reopen the remainder of the federal government.
“Once the secretary [of Homeland Security] started, Senator [Chuck] Schumer interrupted her.”
“If they knew they couldn’t come through, they wouldn’t even start,” Trump said at the meeting with Cabinet secretaries and top advisers. “We have to have a wall.”
He pointed to the New Year’s Day episode in which an estimated 150 migrants apparently tried to rush the southern border near Tijuana, Mexico. Some of the migrants threw rocks at U.S. officials and reportedly hoisted babies over their heads, as Border Patrol responded with tear gas.
“We need a wall and in the end, I believe we will be successful,” Trump said, arguing that drones and technology alone would not have deterred the 150 migrants.
Trump said the U.S.-Mexico border has been “like a sieve,” and vowed to “make a plea” for his border wall.
The Democratic package to end the shutdown would include one bill to temporarily fund the Department of Homeland Security at current levels — with $1.3 billion for border security, far less than Trump has said he wants for the wall — through Feb. 8 as talks continued.
It also would include another measure to fund the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Housing and Urban Development and others closed by the partial shutdown. That measure would provide money through the remainder of the fiscal year, to Sept. 30.
Pelosi said Tuesday that Democrats would take action to “end the Trump Shutdown” by passing legislation to reopen the government Thursday, when the new Congress is seated. Whether the Republican-led Senate would consider the Democratic funding bills — or if Trump would sign either into law — was unclear. McConnell spokesman Donald Stewart said Senate Republicans would not take action without Trump’s backing.
The shutdown began on Dec. 22, as Democrats vowed to block any funding for Trump’s border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and Trump insisted on billions for the long-promised barrier.
While much of the federal government has been running as normal, the partial shutdown has forced hundreds of thousands of federal workers to stay home or work without pay, and has closed some federal services and tourist sites. Approximately a quarter of federal workers are affected.
For his part, Trump has remarked that he had been “lonely” at the White House during the holiday break, having skipped his getaway to Mar-a-Lago in Florida. He claimed his only companions were the “machine gunners,” referring to security personnel, and “they don’t wave, they don’t smile.”
He also criticized Pelosi for vacationing in Hawaii during the shutdown, even as she blamed the White House for failing to resolve it.
On Tuesday morning, after tweeting a New Year’s message to “EVERYONE INCLUDING THE HATERS AND THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA,” Trump tweeted: “The Democrats, much as I suspected, have allocated no money for a new Wall. So imaginative! The problem is, without a Wall there can be no real Border Security.”
But he seemed to shift tactics later in the day, appealing to Pelosi. “Let’s make a deal?” he tweeted.
Fox News’ Matt Leach, Chad Pergram, Brooke Singman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.