President Donald Trump is venting in public and private about Democrats’ refusal to fund a border wall, but there is no sign the president is advancing deadlocked budget negotiations that have kept the government closed for a week.
Cooped up in the White House after canceling his planned two-week-plus vacation to his private Florida club, Trump is consumed by the shutdown, according to people close to him. And the president is increasingly isolated. Congress has essentially recessed until the new year and First Lady Melania Trump headed back to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort on Thursday, according to a spokeswoman, after briefly returning to Washington to accompany the president on a surprise Christmas trip to visit troops in Iraq.
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The White House’s ratcheted-up rhetoric on Friday — with Trump threatening to shutter the entire southern border if he doesn’t get his way — has done nothing to move Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Democrats barely acknowledged Trump’s latest volley, with a Pelosi spokesman saying Friday that real negotiations won’t begin until the president publicly endorses an offer to reopen the government.
“Democrats have made it clear that, given that the president has changed his position so many times, we would not consider any offers from the White House that the president has not publicly endorsed,” Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s spokesman, said Friday.
And privately, Democratic sources say they think desperation is fueling Trump’s latest threat, taking it as a sign that they are winning the shutdown messaging war. Trump spent much of Friday in the West Wing meeting with staff and making calls, according to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Since returning from his overseas excursion, Trump has been throwing out Twitter threats — to no avail — in an attempt to get Democrats to concede to his demand for $5 billion to build a wall along the southern border with Mexico.
Trump’s latest apparent ultimatum, which came in the form of four early-morning tweets on Friday, was a pledge that Trump would close the U.S.-Mexico border if Democrats didn’t come around. He also threatened to cut off aid to Central American countries, saying they “are doing nothing for the United States but taking our money.”
“We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely if the Obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall & also change the ridiculous immigration laws that our Country is saddled with. Hard to believe there was a Congress & President who would approve!” he wrote in a series of tweets.
But the vow appeared to do nothing to jumpstart the stalled talks to reopen the government. Discussions between lawmakers and the White House about how to end the crisis remained almost nonexistent, with members of Congress seemingly resigned to wait until next year to deal with the matter.
Pelosi, the incoming House speaker, hasn’t heard from the White House directly in more than two weeks when Trump phoned her after a tense televised meeting in the Oval Office on Dec. 11.
And Schumer privately made clear to Vice President Mike Pence a week ago that Democratic leaders wouldn’t seriously consider an offer until it was publicly backed by the president, according to Schumer’s spokesman — something Trump has yet to do.
Indeed, as the shutdown entered its seventh day, both sides appeared dug in, with Trump doubling down on his calls for billions in funding for the border wall and Democrats, convinced that the whole episode is politically damaging for the president, making plans to reject the White House’s demands and reopen the government in the next Congress.
Trump’s latest threat came after reports emerged Thursday that a group of migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador was on its way to Mexico. According to news outlets, thousands of the migrants are expected to stay in Mexico to seek employment.
“Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are doing nothing for the United States but taking our money. Word is that a new Caravan is forming in Honduras and they are doing nothing about it. We will be cutting off all aid to these 3 countries – taking advantage of U.S. for years!” Trump tweeted.
Trump has issued similar threats before but has so far not carried them out.
Such a move would also be so controversial — and have such serious ramifications that ripple far beyond immigration — that congressional Republicans are already signaling their opposition.
“I don’t think [Trump] could sustain it if he were to try to shut the border,” said a senior GOP lawmaker, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “There’s too much trade that goes on every day to shut down the border.”
This GOP lawmaker speculated that Republicans from border states “would freak out about this. I don’t see how Trump holds them.”
U.S. companies with Mexican holdings, or that ship to Mexican customers, would also pressure lawmakers to oppose any border shutdown. The trade between the two countries totals roughly $600 billion annually, while U.S. direct investment in Mexico is worth more than $100 billion, according to the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. More than 1.2 million U.S jobs rely on exports to Mexico.
The White House did not immediately respond to an inquiry about whether the administration has modeled the economic costs to the United States of closing the southern border. But Trump has been known to circumvent such processes, long a foundation of major presidential decisions, in favor of his own gut instinct.
For now, at least, there is little that Trump can do beside wage a public messaging war against the Democrats. Even his top aides acknowledge that the negotiations are on hold until Nancy Pelosi becomes House speaker next year.
“We fully expect that until [Rep. Nancy Pelosi] is elected speaker and has locked that vote up, we don’t expect to hear from the Democrats again,” Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s incoming acting chief of staff, said during a Friday Fox News interview.
Mulvaney said that while the administration has come down from its initial request for $5 billion for a border wall, Democrats, who do not want to approve any funds for the structure, notified the administration Thursday night that they would not be providing a counteroffer. Mulvaney declined to say what compromise the administration would accept, only that Trump is firm in his desire for a wall.
“Maybe there is a place in between there that we can compromise — you can get a little bit of what you want, we can get a little bit of what we want,” Mulvaney said.
The shutdown mess has devolved into a public game of finger pointing even after Trump publicly declared earlier this month that he’d take responsibility. More recently, the White House and its allies are trying to make the case that Democrats are unwilling to compromise, even though they proposed $1.3 billion for border security.
The Trump administration has also moved farther from a deal by escalating border money demands in the last 10 days. Mulvaney and Pence asked for $2.5 billion in wall and border security money last weekend, after telling Senate GOP leaders earlier this month that Trump would accept as little as $1.3 billion.
As the two sides remain entrenched, the effects of a shutdown are becoming increasingly pronounced, with six days left until lawmakers are expected to return to D.C.
The Environmental Protection Agency is set to run out of funding on midnight Friday. More national parks are slated to close, after states like Utah have exhausted their own funds to keep the nation’s most popular destinations open through the holidays.
And on Friday, the Office of Personnel Management began offering advice to the 800,000 federal employees who could lose pay in a prolonged shutdown. The agency distributed sample letters that federal workers can send to credit and mortgage companies if they fall behind on payments.
In the House, no votes are expected through at least New Year’s Day — effectively allowing GOP lawmakers to stay home during the final days of their Republican majority.
It’s a far cry from the last government shutdown that lasted more than a week: Back in 2013, the GOP-led House remained in town and passed nearly a dozen piecemeal funding bills that they forced the Democratic-led Senate to reject.
This time, though, the House hasn’t taken a single vote since blowing past the Dec. 21 deadline to fund the government.
Sarah Ferris and Garrett Ross contributed to this report.