By Jeff Mason and Amanda Becker
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic and Republican congressional leaders emerged from a meeting with President Donald Trump on Wednesday giving no indication of any progress toward ending a partial government shutdown in its 12th day as Trump held fast to his demand for $5 billion in funding for a border wall.
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters that Trump asked congressional leaders to return to the White House on Friday for more talks aimed at ending the shutdown.
Democrats said they would proceed with plans to hold votes on Thursday, when they formally take control of the House of Representatives from Trump’s fellow Republicans, on legislation that would end the shutdown without providing the wall money sought by Trump. The White House has called the two-part package a “non-starter.”
“We’re asking the president to open up government,” Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the presumptive incoming House speaker, told reporters outside the White House after top lawmakers met with Trump and his homeland security officials behind closed doors.
Trump’s demand for $5 billion in funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border triggered the shutdown affecting about a quarter of the federal government and 800,000 federal workers. Before meeting with lawmakers, Trump said the shutdown would last for “as long as it takes” as he pushes for wall money – fiercely opposed by Democrats – as part of any legislation to reopen agencies shuttered when their funding lapsed on Dec. 22.
“It could be a long time,” Trump told reporters during a Cabinet meeting, “or it could be quickly.”
“We know that we have a challenge along the border,” McCarthy said. “We want to solve that issue. We want to make sure we open this government up. And I think at the end of the day, the president, listening to him, he wants to solve this as well.”
Pelosi noted that the legislation being presented in the House had previously won backing in the Senate, which will remain in Republican hands in the new 2019-2020 Congress that convenes on Thursday.
Trump’s meeting with lawmakers was held in the White House Situation Room, generally used for high-level security concerns such as military planning.
The House legislation sets up the first major battle of the new Congress between House Democrats and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said Senate Republicans will not approve a spending measure Trump does not support.
Trump made the border wall a key part of his presidential campaign. Before meeting with the Democrats, Trump called the border a “sieve,” rebutted Pelosi’s complaint that a wall was immoral, provided an estimate of the U.S. illegal immigrant population far higher than the figures most experts cite and made disputed comments about progress toward building a wall.
The visit by Pelosi and Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer was their first to the White House since their sharp exchange with Trump in the Oval Office on Dec. 11 during which the president told them he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security.”
He has since blamed Democrats for the shutdown.
Schumer said he hoped Trump and his Republican allies would not use the shutdown and the affected government workers as “hostages” to try to extract wall funding. Schumer said Trump “could not give a good answer” for his opposition to the House Democratic legislation that would provide stopgap funding for the Department of Homeland Security and funding for the rest of the current fiscal year for the remaining shuttered agencies to provide time to reach a border security compromise.
The $5 billion Trump is seeking would cover only a portion of the money needed for a border wall, a project estimated to cost about $23 billion. Trump had said Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico has refused.
Trump said he was open to working on a path to legal status for hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants known as Dreamers who were brought into the country as children, pointing toward a potential broader deal with Democrats that could resolve the shutdown.
Federal courts have blocked Trump’s effort to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, begun in 2012 under Democratic former President Barack Obama, that protected the Dreamers from deportation and gave them work permits.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Amanda Becker; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Cornwell; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Bill Trott and Peter Cooney)