Donald Trump and top congressional leaders failed to resolve a partial government shutdown that has stretched well into a second week as the president refused to back off from his demands for billions of dollars for a long-promised wall along the southern US border with Mexico.
Democratic and Republican leaders from both chambers were invited to the the White House’s Situation Room, the inner sanctum for classified meetings, on Wednesday for a “border security briefing”. During the meeting Trump asked Department of Homeland Security officials to “make a plea” for his wall.
At a cabinet meeting prior to the briefing, Trump warned that parts of the government would could remain closed for a “a long time” without a deal.
“We’re asking the president to open up government,” Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to assume the speakership of the House of Representatives on Thursday, said after the briefing with Trump. “We are giving him a Republican path to do that. Why would he not do it?”
The shutdown was triggered by Trump’s demand that Congress allocate more than $5bn in taxpayer money to build a wall along the 2,000-mile border between the US and Mexico – a concession Democrats refuse to make.
The shutdown, which entered its 12th day on Wednesday, has affected nearly 800,000 federal workers. The incoming House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, said Trump invited leaders back to the White House on Friday.
Pelosi said the Democrats will still vote on Thursday, as Congress starts its new session with the Democratic party in the majority in the House after victories in the midterm elections last November. Democrats intend to introduce a pair of funding bills that would end the shutdown, but without money for a border wall. The proposal includes $1.3bn for border security measures that can be used to repair and replace fencing and existing portions of the wall.
The White House has called such a legislative package a “non-starter”.
The Republican-controlled Senate passed a spending bill last month that would have funded the government through 8 February without money for a border wall. But Republican leaders in the House refused to hold a vote on the measure.
“Our question to the president and to the Republicans is why don’t you accept what you have already done [in order] to open up government?” Pelosi said.
On Capitol Hill after the briefing on Wednesday, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, told reporters that it could take “weeks” to break the stalemate and that Wednesday’s meeting did not produce “any particular progress”.
“We are hopeful that somehow in the coming days or weeks we will be able to reach an agreement,” he added.
The White House visit by Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer was their first since their televised showdown with Trump in the Oval Office last month. During the meeting Trump said he would be “proud” to shut down the government.
Schumer said he implored Trump to reopen the government while they debated their differences over the border wall.
“We asked him to give us one good reason – I asked him directly,” Schumer said. “He could not give a good answer.”
He added: “To use the shutdown as hostage – which they had no argument against – is wrong.”
Trump made his case for the wall during extensive comments to the press in which he made several false or misleading claims about illegal immigration and border wall. At the start of his cabinet meeting, Trump said the border was “like a sieve” and insisted the US needed a “physical barrier” to deter illegal border crossers.