President Trump threatened to keep parts of the government shuttered for more than a year after meeting with congressional leadership on Friday, a negotiation that Republicans called productive but Democrats bemoaned as making little progress.
In the more immediate term, lawmakers appeared unlikely to reach a deal before Tuesday when both chambers of Congress are set to come back into session. That would mark the 18th day of the partial shutdown, eclipsing the 16-day 2013 shutdown and just shy of the longest-ever shutdown in 1995-1996 that lasted 21 days.
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“I did say that,” Trump said of discussing a lengthy shutdown during his closed-door meeting with lawmakers. “I don’t think it will, but I am prepared.” He added that he was hopeful it would not last “even a few more days. It could really end pretty quickly.”
The White House and leadership in both parties and chambers agreed to convene a working group of staffers to continue talks through the weekend.
Newly minted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., emerged from the meeting calling it “lengthy and sometimes contentious,” while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called it a “spirited discussion.” Pelosi said the only progress that was made was eliminating some possibilities and further clarifying each other’s positions. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said he pleaded with Trump not to hold “hundreds of thousands of workers hostage” for funding for his proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico.
“We cannot resolve this until we open up government,” Schumer said.
Trump repeatedly said he was not concerned about federal workers who are at risk of missing paychecks if the shutdown continues into late next week. More than 345,000 employees are currently furloughed, while an additional 500,000 are working but will not be paid until government reopens. Affected federal employees were paid last week for the work they did before the shutdown started. They will not receive their next scheduled checks, however, which would otherwise occur on or around Jan. 11.
“The people that won’t get next week’s pay, or the following weeks pay, if you ever really looked at those people they’d say, ‘Mr. President please keep going,’” Trump said, suggesting “most” impacted workers supported the shutdown as a means to get wall funding.
A recent GovExec/Government Business Council survey found just 22 percent of federal workers support the shutdown. Even among those who support a wall, 35 percent said they still did not support shutting down the government to build one.
Trump suggested most impacted feds could avoid financial hardships, noting that employees could negotiate with their landlords to temporarily reduce their rents.
“I’ve been a landlord for a long time,” Trump said. “I’ve been in the real estate business for a long time. When you see their problems out there, their difficulties out there, you know, the people are all good for the money. They work with people.”
Trump added a piece of advice for landlords: “I would encourage them to be nice and easy. We have a bigger subject that we’re doing. It’s called, ‘The security of our nation.’ ”
The president hosted leaders of a federal employee union, the National Border Patrol Council, on Thursday, and quoted their support for his tactics as representative of the federal workforce.
“‘Don’t even think about us,’” Trump quoted union officials as saying. “‘Get this fixed.’”
Asked how federal employees would get by for months or a year without pay, he again stated the ends justify the means.
“The safety net is going to be having a strong border,” Trump said.
Ross Gianfortune contributed to this report.