U.S. President Donald Trump showed no signs Sunday of backing down on his demand for taxpayer funding for a wall along the southern border with Mexico, saying there is “not going to be any bend” on his part.
“We have to build a wall, a barrier. It can be steel,” Trump told reporters at the White House before heading to his Maryland retreat at Camp David for discussions with key administration officials about border security and policies they plan to pursue this year.
In the meantime, Trump is engaged in a dispute with opposition Democratic lawmakers over his demand for more than $5 billion in funding for the barrier, a stalemate that has shut down about a quarter of U.S. government operations for 16 days, already one of the longest government closures in U.S. history.
“This shutdown could end tomorrow, or it could go on a long time,” Trump said, noting that Democrats refusing his demand for wall funding have voted for barriers at the U.S.-Mexican border in the past. “Democrats agree, you need border security.”
Trump said he does not expect anything to come out of a second day of negotiations Sunday between top White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, and key congressional aides on how to bridge differences over border security and Trump’s demand for wall funding. But he said progress could be made in talks over the next few days.
The U.S. leader said, “If we don’t have border security, we’ll be crime ridden,” with people crossing into the U.S. illegally “killing our citizens.” He said supporters, who often cheered his call for a wall during his successful 2016 run for the White House, are telling him, “Make sure you win this battle.”
He said, “People that didn’t vote for Donald Trump also want border security.”
Democrats have offered Trump $1.3 billion in new funding for border security, but not for a wall, which they say is an immoral, ineffective way of controlling border access to thwart illegal immigration. They have called for heightened use of technology to catch immigrants trying to cross into the U.S. along the 3,200-kilometer border with Mexico.
Trump declared, as he first did on Friday, “I may declare a national emergency, depending on what happens in the next few days,” to build the wall without congressional approval by using money that had been designated for military construction projects.
The shutdown has forced the closure of museums in Washington, with trash going uncollected at understaffed national parks. If the shutdown extends to February, food assistance for poorer Americans would be curtailed, as would tax refunds at the height of the annual period when Americans file tax returns on their income from the previous year.
About 800,000 federal government workers have been furloughed or are continuing to work without pay during the shutdown. In recent days, Trump voiced little concern about any inconvenience they may have in meeting their household bills, saying that “most of the workers not getting paid are Democrats.”
On Sunday, he said, “I can relate,” but added, “I’m sure people will make adjustments.” In past shutdowns, furloughed government workers have been paid retroactively when government funding has resumed and most officials in Washington assume the same will happen this time as well.
Trump officials made the rounds of Sunday news talk shows to support his position on border wall funding and refusal to reopen the shuttered government agencies that are unrelated to the wall while continuing to debate a budget for the Department of Homeland Security, which controls border operations, for another month.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told Fox News that Democrats are “just unwilling to let this president win” on the wall dispute. She said that “at some point, we have to say ‘enough is enough,'” to extend the shutdown in order to secure wall funding.
“This president is prepared to do what is necessary to protect our borders,” she said.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he believes Democrats “think they’re winning the PR battle and they’re willing to drag this out because they think it hurts the president.”
Democrats have vowed they will not give Trump taxpayer money for the wall, especially since he said repeatedly during his 2016 campaign that Mexico would pay for it, which Mexican officials have often said they will not do.