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Jan 5, 2019

Pence and White House officials leave meeting with congressional aides with no end to shutdown

By Robert Costa 




Robert Costa
National political reporter covering the White House, Congress and campaigns
Top White House officials and senior congressional aides left a three-hour meeting Saturday with no apparent breakthrough for ending the partial government shutdown, which has now entered its third week with no end in sight. 
Expectations for the meeting at the White House — led by Vice President Pence but lacking lawmakers whose sign-off would be needed to secure a deal — were low. While assigned by President Trump to oversee the meeting, Pence did not have the president’s blessing to float new or specific numbers, as the vice president had done last month in a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), according to two Trump aides who were not authorized to speak publicly. 
Pence was also expected to speak with some lawmakers by phone.
Before the meeting began Saturday morning, Trump took a combative tone in a series of Twitter messages.
“We are working hard at the Border, but we need a WALL! In 2018, 1.7 million pounds of narcotics seized, 17,000 adults arrested with criminal records, and 6000 gang members, including MS-13, apprehended. A big Human Trafficking problem,” Trump tweeted.
He also claimed news coverage about cracks in Republican support for his hard-line position were inaccurate:
“Great support coming from all sides for Border Security (including Wall) on our very dangerous Southern Border. Teams negotiating this weekend! Washington Post and NBC reporting of events, including Fake sources, has been very inaccurate (to put it mildly)!” 
Saturday’s White House meeting followed one the previous day between Trump and congressional leaders. After that meeting, the president held a news conference in the Rose Garden, in which he reiterated his demands for border wall funding.
A number of Republicans, including Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who is up for reelection in 2020, have said in recent days that the government should be reopened and that a shutdown is not the “right answer,” worrying GOP leaders about the depth of support for Trump’s position.
Trump spent much of Saturday on the phone with allies, talking through his positioning on the shutdown and hearing their reviews of his Rose Garden performance, according to a person close to him. Two people regularly on his call list — Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) — have encouraged Trump to take a hard line and refuse to agree to reopen the government unless wall funding is secured, the person said. 
 “I’ve never seen the president as resolved on any issue as he is on this,” Meadows said Saturday. “But he is open to new ideas about how to end the impasse.” 
Trump told reporters Friday that he wants to reopen government but is prepared to maintain the shutdown for weeks or even years. He also told congressional leaders at the White House on Friday that he preferred the term “strike” over “shutdown,” people briefed on the meeting said. 
House Democratic leaders privately described Saturday’s meeting as an attempt by the White House to hold Republicans together as the shutdown grows more politically painful, particularly for Republicans who are facing difficult reelection campaigns. 
In conversations with top aides on Friday and Saturday, House Democratic leaders confided Trump and GOP congressional leaders seem eager to be seen as making progress, even if the talks remained stalled, so that Republican lawmakers back home over the weekend could reassure nervous constituents, according to two Democratic officials briefed on those discussions who were not authorized to speak publicly.
“There is the reality of what the White House is doing, which is very little, and the image they’re trying to send, which is, ‘Look at us, we’re busy, and the vice president is rolling up his sleeves,’ ” one Democratic official said. “They’re worried about defections.”
Democratic leaders planned to send one or two senior aides to the White House on Saturday, following the guidance from Trump aides about the session, with Democrats mostly dispatching staffers responsible for policy and appropriations, officials said.
Some centrist Republicans on Saturday urged Trump and congressional leaders to reopen the government, reflecting growing unease in their ranks about the prolonged shutdown and the political cost the GOP might pay.
“With Nancy Pelosi as speaker, it’s going to have to be a compromise solution,” Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), a moderate and former FBI agent who represents the Philadelphia suburbs, said in an interview. “It’s our most basic function as members of Congress to fund the government, and we need to have these battles on immigration and other issues on their own turf, separately.” 
While Trump was aware of Pence’s efforts to negotiate, the president has grown annoyed by news reports about the negotiations that make it seem like he is backing away from his demands and thus wants to avoid stories about new numbers for wall funding being discussed, the Trump aides said. 
Trump instead encouraged Pence and senior aides to focus on the $5.6 billion for border security that was the focal point of legislation passed last month by House Republicans and push Democrats, the aides said. 
Trump’s hard line has been bolstered by his view of Friday’s meeting at the White House with congressional leaders and his subsequent rambling and lengthy remarks in the Rose Garden.
Trump exasperated members of both parties during the meeting in the Situation Room, but Trump spent Friday evening boasting to friends that he was in a strong negotiating position because he was able to capture the attention of the political world and make a flurry of points that he feels his core voters appreciate, White House officials said.
White House senior staff were scheduled to depart late Saturday for Camp David for a staff retreat where discussions about policy and priorities for 2019 are planned, and the president is expected to join them on Sunday. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney is spearheading the gathering as a way of connecting with his new deputies and colleagues, according to officials.
Mulvaney, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner also attended Saturday’s meeting. 
The president is asking advisers about further ways to battle for wall funding in the coming days, whether it’s meeting with family members of people killed by immigrants here illegally, meeting with sheriffs, or visiting the border, the officials said.
Still, there are signs within the White House that more comprehensive deals are at least being considered, more likely for when after the shutdown concludes and the government reopens. 
Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, continues to tell his allies that he believes there could eventually be a deal for border wall funding in exchange for protections of children brought to the United States illegally, according to two people who were briefed on those discussions. Chatter about an agreement involving protections for young immigrant beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program have risen a bit in recent days, although the administration has rejected previous wall-for-DACA deals and Democratic leadership is in no mood for one now. 
After his work on a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill, Kushner is as engaged as ever with Capitol Hill, the people said. Still, Kushner’s interest in brokering a possible deal on immigration has caused some anxiety among conservatives close to Trump, several of whom said Saturday they feared the president could eventually be intrigued by Kushner’s position as the shutdown drags on and Trump searches for an out.