WASHINGTON — President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders dug in Wednesday for a lengthy partial shutdown in a newly divided government after a White House meeting — the first in 22 days — yielded no agreement on a way to break an impasse over Mr. Trump’s demands for billions of dollars for a border wall.
During the contentious meeting in the Situation Room, Mr. Trump made his case for a wall on the southwestern border and rejected Democrats’ proposals for reopening the government while the two sides ironed out their differences.
“I would look foolish if I did that,” Mr. Trump responded after Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, posed the question to him directly, according to three officials familiar with the meeting, who described it on the condition of anonymity. He said that the wall was why he was elected, one of the officials said.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said after the meeting that he had no intention of putting Democratic bills to reopen the government to a vote if Mr. Trump would not sign them.
“We’re hopeful that, somehow, in the coming days and weeks, we’ll be able to reach an agreement,” Mr. McConnell told reporters at the Capitol, offering an ominous timeline.
The events underscored the personal and political crosscurrents standing in the way of any compromise between a president unwilling to lose face with his core supporters on his signature campaign promise and newly empowered Democrats — poised to assume control of the House on Thursday — who refuse to give ground on an issue that has come to symbolize Mr. Trump’s immigration policies.
With the partial government funding lapse dragging into its 12th day and affecting 800,000 federal employees, the confrontation in the Situation Room only served to highlight the depth of the divide.
“Could be a long time, or it could be quickly,” Mr. Trump said of resolving the shutdown. “It’s too important a subject to walk away from.”
Mr. Schumer, with Ms. Pelosi, said that Mr. Trump “could not give a good answer” about why he wouldn’t compromise.CreditSarah Silbiger/The New York Times
Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, who is in line to be elected speaker on Thursday, said: “We are asking the president to open up government. Why would he not do it?”
“He could not give a good answer,” Mr. Schumer said.
Mr. Trump tried creative ways to persuade the Democrats that they should support his wall. At one point, he said Ms. Pelosi should back it because she was “a good Catholic” and Vatican City is surrounded by a wall, according to one of the officials familiar with the discussion.
In her first legislative act as speaker, Ms. Pelosi plans on Thursday to bring up two bills to reopen the government. One would fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8, providing a month to break the impasse over border security funding, and a second would provide money for the remaining shuttered agencies and departments through September. The homeland security measure would devote $1.3 billion to border security measures, such as enhanced surveillance and fortified fencing, but not the wall.
Mr. Trump’s rejection of those measures left the prospects of a resolution at their dimmest since the shutdown began on Dec. 22. It also highlighted the difficulty of the current situation, in which Democrats, Republicans and even some White House staff members have found themselves trying to anticipate what Mr. Trump will accept.
Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the incoming minority leader, said the group would meet again on Friday, although Democratic officials said they had received no formal invitation to do so.
There was even some disagreement about why a next meeting could be on Friday.
“It was the consensus of all the participants that it would be easier for House Democrats to negotiate after the conclusion of their leadership elections,” said one person who was in the room and asked not to identified. However, that was not an assessment Democrats shared afterward.
In a pair of evening tweets, Mr. Trump seemed to hold out hope of an agreement, writing: “I remain ready and willing to work with Democrats to pass a bill that secures our borders, supports the agents and officers on the ground, and keeps America Safe. Let’s get it done!”
But the path to such a deal seemed murky at best.
Before he met congressional leaders on Wednesday, Mr. Trump vetoed a compromise that his own vice president floated with Democrats last month to stave off the government funding lapse, saying $2.5 billion in border security spending was insufficient. In the hours before a midnight deadline to avert a shutdown before Christmas, Vice President Mike Pence had broached that number, which his team has quietly continued to push in the days after parts of the government ran out of money.
It’s official: The federal government is partially shut down. So how does this happen and who is affected?Published OnCreditCreditTom Brenner for The New York Times
The president also rejected proposals suggested by two Republican senators, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. They proposed that negotiators revive a compromise that would combine border-wall money with legislation to shield young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children from deportation and grant them legal work permits.
Together, those rejections seemed to confirm the concerns of Democratic leaders who had questioned whether they could trust senior White House officials to broker any compromise that could then be rejected by a president who has often shifted his position at the last moment, especially when it comes to immigration.
“No, not $2.5 billion, no — we’re asking for $5.6” billion, Mr. Trump said during a cabinet meeting, hours before the Situation Room meeting.
The larger figure referred to the amount Mr. Trump has demanded for the wall, which the House endorsed in a vote last month, but which failed to garner even majority support in the Senate, where it would need 60 votes to prevail.
Wednesday’s gathering in the Situation Room, where military operations are tracked and other sensitive discussions unfold, was a conscious effort by Mr. Trump and his aides to infuse a sense of national-security crisis into the immigration discussion. It was the president’s first face-to-face meeting with Democratic leaders since a combative session last month when he said he would insist that any government spending bill include money for a border wall — and would proudly own the consequences if that meant a shutdown.
But it quickly turned tense as Mr. Trump argued for his wall and called on Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, who appeared via teleconference from the border in San Diego to stress the need for it, according to two of the officials who were at the meeting.
Mr. Schumer interjected, calling on Ms. Pelosi, who disputed Ms. Nielsen’s statistics, two of the officials said. Ms. Pelosi then laid out the legislative proposals she planned to bring up on Thursday, detailing how the spending measures had all received broad bipartisan support either in committees or on the floor in the Republican-controlled Congress.
Hours before it began, what was billed as a somber security briefing had already taken on the sharp tone of a political showdown, as Mr. Trump charged that Democrats were sacrificing border security for a partisan advantage in the 2020 elections.
President Trump suggested that he was unwilling to compromise with Democrats over his demands for a border wall, which have held up negotiations to end a government shutdown.Published OnCreditCreditDoug Mills/The New York Times
“The United States needs a physical barrier,” the president said during the cabinet meeting, comparing the southern border to “a sieve” that allows criminals and drugs to enter the country and facilitates human trafficking.
“Walls work,” he added, claiming inaccurately that former President Barack Obama has one “around his compound” in Washington. (Parts of Mr. Obama’s home in the northwest section of the city are bordered by a low brick retaining wall, and others have iron or chain-link fencing.)
Mr. Trump repeated his false claims about the border wall, including that Mexico was already paying for it, as he promised during his campaign, and that much of its construction had already been completed.
The president has puzzled lawmakers and his own aides with his contention that Mexico is financing the wall through the revised North American Free Trade Agreement between Mexico, Canada and the United States. The agreement, which has yet to pass Congress, contains no such proviso, and it is meant to lower tariffs, not raise them.
And while Mr. Trump claims that the wall is already being built, the Republican-controlled Congress enacted legislation barring any money from being spent to do so, and no such construction has occurred. The Trump administration has spent less than 10 percent of the other border security funding, for fencing and other measures, that Congress provided over the last year.
Outside the White House, the search for a way out is getting more urgent. Some lawmakers have grown anxious about its impact on their constituents, including federal workers who are not receiving pay while their agencies are denied funding.
Mr. Alexander wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post suggesting three ways out: Grant the president the $1.6 billion for border security that he requested, without wall funding, plus an additional $1 billion for security at ports of entry; approve a bipartisan bill linking wall funding with protection for young immigrants brought illegally to the country as children; or resurrect the 2013 comprehensive immigration overhaul that included huge increases in border security measures, sweeping changes to immigration law and a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Incoming lawmakers vented new concerns about the shutdown’s impact.
“This morning I requested that my pay be withheld until the shutdown is over,” Representative-elect Mikie Sherrill, Democrat of New Jersey, said Wednesday on Twitter, where she posted a letter to the chief administrative officer of the House making her request official.
She noted that thousands of federal workers in her state were not receiving paychecks. “I came here to govern, not engage in partisan politics at the expense of hardworking Americans,” Ms. Sherrill said.