With the government mired in shutdown week four, President Donald Trump rejected a short-term legislative fix and dug in for more combat Monday, declaring he would "never ever back down."
Trump rejected a suggestion to reopen the government for several weeks while negotiations would continue with Democrats over his demands for $5.7 billion for a long, impregnable wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The president also edged further away from the idea of trying to declare a national emergency to circumvent Congress.
"I'm not looking to call a national emergency," Trump said. "This is so simple we shouldn't have to."
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No cracks were apparent in the president's deadlock with lawmakers after a weekend with no negotiations at all. His rejection of the short-term option proposed by Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham removed one path forward, and little else was in sight. Congressional Republicans were watching Trump for a signal for how to move next, and Democrats have not budged from their refusal to fund the wall and their demand that he reopen government before border talks resume.
The White House has been considering reaching out to rank-and-file Democrats rather than dealing with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to try and chip away at Democratic opposition to the wall. A White House official said plans were in the works to call freshman representatives, especially those who initially did not support Pelosi's bid for the speakership.
It was uncertain whether any Democrats would respond to the invitation.
Separately, around a dozen senators from both parties met Monday to discuss ways out of the shutdown gridlock. Participants included Graham and Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Tim Kaine, D-Va.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was aware of the group's effort but added, "I wouldn't go so far as to say he's blessed it." The odds of the group producing an actual solution without Trump's approval seemed slim. In the past, centrists of both parties banding together have seldom resolved major partisan disputes.
Lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill late Monday "discouraged," as GOP Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota put it, as all signals pointed to a protracted fight.
Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, the GOP chairman of the Appropriations Committee, compared the shutdown saga to the play "Waiting for Godot."
"And Godot never shows up," Shelby said. "We could be protracted here for a long time. There's nobody on the horse coming to rescue us ... that I know about."
Meanwhile, the impact of the 24-day partial government closure was intensifying around the country. Some 800,000 federal workers missed paychecks Friday, deepening anxieties about mortgage payments and unpaid bills, and about half of them were off the job, cutting off some services. Travelers at the Atlanta airport, the nation's busiest, dealt with waits of more than an hour Monday as no-shows by security screeners soared.
Trump spent the weekend in the White House reaching out to aides and lawmakers and tweeting aggressively about Democratic foes as he tried to make the case that the wall was needed on both security and humanitarian grounds. He stressed that argument repeatedly during a speech at a farming convention in New Orleans on Monday, insisting there was "no substitute" for a wall or a barrier along the southern border.
Trump has continued to insist he has the power to sign an emergency declaration to deal with what he says is a crisis of drug smuggling and trafficking of women and children at the border. But he now appears to be in no rush to make such a declaration.
Instead, he is focused on pushing Democrats to return to the negotiating table — though he walked out of the most recent talks last week — and seized on the fact that a group of House and Senate Democrats were on a retreat in Puerto Rico. Democrats, he argued, were partying on a beach rather than negotiating — though Pelosi and Schumer were not on the trip.
White House officials cautioned that an emergency order remains on the table. Many inside and outside the White House hold that it may be the best option to end the budget standoff, reopening the government while allowing Trump to tell his base supporters he didn't cave on the wall.
However, some GOP lawmakers —as well as White House aides— have counseled against it, concerned that an emergency declaration would immediately be challenged in court. Others have raised concerns about re-routing money from other projects, including money Congress approved for disaster aid. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have also warned that acting under an emergency order would set a troubling precedent for executive power.
For now, Trump apparently sees value in his extended fight to fulfill a key campaign pledge, knowing that his supporters — whom he'll need to turn out in 2020 to win re-election — don't want to see him back down.
Trump was taking a wide range of advice on both sides of the issue, including from his new chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, senior aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Rep. Mark Meadows, as well as outside political advisers.
In the House, Democrats look to keep the pressure on Trump by holding votes this week on two bills: one that would reopen the government until Feb. 1, and a second that would reopen it until Feb. 28.
Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said the bills offer "additional options" to end the shutdown and would give lawmakers time for negotiations on border security and immigration.
A key question is how long Trump is willing to hold out in hopes of extracting concessions from Democrats.
Recent polling finds a slight majority of Americans opposed to building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — and few see the situation at the border as a crisis — but views are predictably divided by partisanship.
Polls also show that Americans are more likely to fault Trump for the shutdown. A large majority of Democrats put responsibility on Trump, while a slightly smaller majority of Republicans blame Democrats. A modest share of Republicans either hold Trump responsible or say both sides are at fault.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll published Jan. 13 found that 54 percent of Americans oppose a wall along the border, while 42 percent express support for it. Fully 87 percent of Republicans favor the wall, compared with about as many Democrats (84 percent) who are opposed.