WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says parts of the government will stay shut as long as Democrats refuse to build more barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border, seemingly dashing hope for a Christmas miracle that would soon allow several departments to reopen and employees to return to work.
Asked when the government would reopen, Trump said: “I can’t tell you when the government’s going to be open. I can tell you it’s not going to be open until we have a wall or fence, whatever they’d like to call it.”
“I’ll call it whatever they want but it’s all the same thing,” he said at the White House after offering holiday greetings to U.S. troops stationed around the country and the world.
Trump argued that drug flows and human trafficking into the U.S. can only be stopped by a wall.
“We can’t do it without a barrier. We can’t do it without a wall,” he told reporters.
Democrats oppose spending any money on a wall or fence, pushing instead for increased use of technology to control access at the border.
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leaders of Congress, blame Trump for the stalemate and for “plunging the country into chaos.” They pointed to problems beyond the shutdown, including heavy losses on Wall Street and Trump’s decision to fire his defense secretary.
“The president wanted the shutdown, but he seems not to know how to get himself out of it,” they said in the statement.
Trump had said he’d be “proud” to shut down the government in a fight over the wall, but now blames Democrats for refusing to vote for a House-passed bill that includes the $5.7 billion he wants for the wall.
The White House presented a counteroffer over the weekend to Schumer that is between Trump’s $5.7 billion price tag and the $1.3 billion Democrats have offered, said budget director Mick Mulvaney. He did not elaborate, but a Democratic aide granted anonymity to discuss the private talks said the White House offered $2.5 billion — an initial $2.1 billion plus $400 million Democrats called a “slush fund” for the president’s other immigration priorities.
Mulvaney said he was waiting for Schumer’s response. Schumer’s office said the parties remained “very far apart.”
Trump chimed in Monday from the White House, where he has been cooped up in the mansion since Saturday, when the shutdown began. Trump, who typically spends Christmas at his Florida estate, tweeted at one point Monday about feeling lonely.
“I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security,” he tweeted. “At some point the Democrats not wanting to make a deal will cost our Country more money than the Border Wall we are all talking about. Crazy!”
Trump met Monday on border security with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other department officials. Senate negotiators continued talks behind the scenes with Democrats and Republicans. The House and Senate briefly gaveled into session on Christmas Eve before quickly closing again with no further action.
Several Cabinet departments and agencies have been closed since Saturday after their funding lapsed, and Mulvaney warned the shutdown could stretch into January, when Democrats are set to take back control the House.
Trump excused federal employees from work on Monday and Christmas is a federal holiday, meaning the public could begin feeling the shutdown’s effects on Wednesday. Some 800,000 federal workers must either work without pay for the time being, or stay home and wait to be paid later.
Trump promised to make Mexico pay for the border wall. Mexico has refused.