At the Border and in Washington, White House Digs in on Wall

At the Border and in Washington, White House Digs In on Wall

Vice President Mike Pence made it clear that the president wouldn’t drop his insistence on funding for a border wall, which Democrats have branded a nonstarter.CreditCreditErin Schaff for The New York Times

McALLEN, Tex. — President Trump traveled to the border on Thursday to escalate his demands for a wall with warnings of crime and chaos on the frontier, as the partial government shutdown neared a milestone Day 21 and Senate Republican efforts to break the impasse collapsed in Washington.

On Friday, the shutdown will tie the longest in the nation’s history. But the White House only dug in harder. “No wall, no deal,” Vice President Mike Pence declared in a briefing with reporters on Capitol Hill. “We’re going to keep standing strong, keep standing firm.”

In a sign of growing unease, some Senate Republicans came off the sidelines to try to hash out a deal that would reopen the government as Congress worked toward a broader agreement tying wall funds to protection for some undocumented immigrants and other migrants. But before those negotiations could gain momentum, they collapsed; Mr. Trump let it be known privately that he would not back such a deal and Republicans failed to come to consensus among themselves, much less with the Democrats.

“It kind of fell apart,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said, wearing a dejected expression. “I have never been more depressed about moving forward than I am right now. I just don’t see a pathway.”

In a brief statement not long after, Mr. Graham declared, “It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier.” He added, “I hope it works.”

Mr. Trump, flanked by Border Patrol officers and a cache of drugs, cash and weapons seized by authorities, used a visit to a border facility here to blame the protracted shutdown affecting large swaths of the federal government on Democrats, charging that their opposition to a wall was allowing for brutal crime and violence.

“You’ll have crime in Iowa, you’ll have crime in New Hampshire, you’ll have crime in New York” without a wall,” he warned.

“If we had a barrier of any kind, whether it’s steel or concrete,” Mr. Trump said of tragic stories involving violence and human trafficking, “they wouldn’t even bother trying. We could stop that cold.”

In a bewildering set of statements that underscored the freewheeling, often contradictory nature of his attempts to force Democrats to capitulate, Mr. Trump renewed his threat to declare a national emergency and build his wall without congressional approval, but then suggested a short time later that he was open to a broader immigration deal that would grant legal status to undocumented immigrants.

“We can declare a national emergency,” Mr. Trump said. “We shouldn’t have to.”

Later, standing just above the Rio Grande with military vehicles and border agents as his backdrop, he said he would consider a compromise that would allow undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, often known as Dreamers, to maintain legal status they lost when he ended the Obama-era program that protected them.

“I would like to do a much broader form of immigration,” Mr. Trump said. “We could help the Dreamers.”

Only hours earlier, Mr. Pence had rejected such a deal, saying the president wanted to wait until the Supreme Court ruled this spring on whether an Obama-era program protecting young immigrants brought illegally as children was constitutional. Republicans and Democrats have struggled to find a way forward without knowing precisely what Mr. Trump would accept.

Mr. Pence declared it time for Democrats to begin negotiating, but he essentially blocked potential offramps for the impasse. He made it clear that Mr. Trump would not drop his insistence on funding for a wall on the southwestern border, which Democrats have branded a nonstarter.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged the Republican-controlled Senate to take up a measure the House passed on Wednesday to reopen part of the government.CreditErin Schaff for The New York Times

And he indicated that the president was disinclined to accept the idea behind a bipartisan plan that had been under discussion in the Senate — similar to a measure that Republicans and Democrats supported last year, but that the White House rejected — that would trade wall funding for legal status for undocumented immigrants facing the threat of deportation.

“We’re kind of stuck,” conceded Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who had spearheaded the talks. “I don’t see a pathway forward.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi also showed no signs of budging, urging the Republican-controlled Senate to take up a measure the House passed on Wednesday to reopen part of the government. The House passed two more measures on Thursday, this time funding the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Transportation and Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration.

A dozen Republicans crossed party lines to support one of the measures, slightly more than previous votes but no indication that the patience of Mr. Trump’s own party was wearing thin.

“We say to them: ‘Take yes for an answer. This is what you had proposed,’” Ms. Pelosi said at a news conference. “Why are you rejecting it at the expense of the health, safety and well-being of the American people? Do you take an oath to the American people, or to Donald Trump?”

As the two sides grapple over who should be held responsible, the showdown has forced 800,000 federal workers to go without pay and placed federal benefits for millions more in jeopardy, with the fallout being felt across the country in ways large and small.

Even as Mr. Pence spoke, there were signs that the partial shutdown, now in its 20th day, would almost certainly become the longest in American history, after a 21-day lapse that began in December 1995. Mr. Trump tweeted that he would skip a planned trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, slated to begin Jan. 22, because of the impasse.

At the same time, the only glimmer of a bipartisan compromise being discussed in the Capitol appeared to die before it got beyond what Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, called “a skeleton.” A flurry of negotiations that began late Wednesday among Republicans, including several facing competitive re-election contests in 2020, crumbled amid White House opposition.

President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, that allowed some young undocumented immigrants, known as Dreamers, to apply for work permits and deportation reprieves. But Mr. Trump rescinded the program in 2017, drawing a legal challenge currently before the Supreme Court.

Senators were also discussing including legal status for immigrants who were living legally in the United States under grants of Temporary Protected Status before Mr. Trump revoked them. At one point, Mr. Graham floated the idea of reopening the government on a stopgap, short-term spending measure while congressional committees work through the president’s border security and wall requests, working on a compromise through the regular legislative process.

But Mr. Pence shot all those ideas down.

“We feel confident that the Supreme Court will find DACA to have been unconstitutional, and at that time, he believes that there will be an opportunity for us to not only address the issue affecting the Dreamers, but also a broader range of immigration issues,” he said.

Earlier Ms. Pelosi had sidestepped a question about whether she would support a deal to reopen the government that included DACA, saying, “We haven’t had that discussion.”

“What we’re talking about now is just the president’s insistence on a wall,” she said. “We need to have comprehensive immigration reform. Democrats and Republicans know that.”

Republican senators who had called on their leaders to bring up House measures to reopen the government while the debate over border security continues said they were disappointed with the breakdown of talks.

“It’s very difficult when we’re dealing with people who do not want to budge at all with their positions, and that’s the president and Speaker Pelosi,” said Senator Susan Collins of Maine. “They’re each very dug in on their position, and that’s made this very difficult to resolve.”

Emily Cochrane, Catie Edmondson and Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.


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