WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump remained hunkered down in the White House on Thursday, firing off angry missives about a government shutdown he once proudly claimed to own but now seems unable to end.
“Have the Democrats finally realized that we desperately need Border Security and a Wall on the Southern Border,” Trump wrote on the sixth day of the partial shuttering of about 25 percent of the federal government over his fight to fund a border wall. It was the first day that would have been a normal workday for most affected employees.
“Democrat’s say they don’t want the Wall (even though they know it is really needed), and they don’t want ICE,” he wrote later. “They don’t have much to campaign on, do they? An Open Southern Border and the large scale crime that comes with such stupidity!”
Trump has not spoken to the Democratic leader in either chamber of Congress in recent days. Discussions have continued at the staff level, but Democrats said the problem remains that Trump himself does not seem to know what exactly he wants.
“He does not appear to have a clear endgame in sight,” one senior Democratic aide said on condition of anonymity.
Trump’s White House had indicated he would sign a short-term spending bill to keep the government open through Feb. 8, but then Trump changed his mind after TV and radio hosts criticized him for caving on his campaign promise to build a wall along the Mexican border.
Actually, Trump had claimed he would force Mexico to pay for such a wall, but he abandoned that part of the promise almost immediately upon taking office. He persuaded House leaders to insert $5.7 billion in unspecified border security money into the short-term spending extension that the Senate had already passed unanimously. But not even a majority of the Senate voted for the revised version of that bill last week, let alone the 60 votes it would need for passage.
Both the House and Senate held brief procedural sessions Thursday, but almost no lawmakers were in town. Similar procedural sessions were set for Monday, New Year’s Eve, but the most likely scenario seemed to be that the whole issue would be put off until Jan. 3, when the new Congress is seated with Democrats taking control of the House.
Nine Cabinet agencies, including the departments of homeland security, justice, state and interior, ran out of funding at midnight Dec. 21, leaving hundreds of thousands of federal employees uncertain if they would get scheduled paychecks in mid-January.
In a Dec. 11 Oval Office meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Trump said he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security” if Democrats refused to agree to billions of additional dollars for his wall. Ever since that point, though, Trump has reversed tactics and is blaming Democrats ― even taking that message to U.S. troops in Iraq.
“You’re fighting for borders in other countries, and they don’t want to fight ― the Democrats ― for the border of our country. It doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Trump told service members Wednesday at Al-Asad Air Base on his first visit to a combat zone since taking office.
“The president turned his first visit to our troops into another cringe-worthy Donald Trump reality show special,” said Drew Hammill, a Pelosi aide. “With the House majority, Democrats will act swiftly to end the Trump shutdown and will fight for a strategic, robust national security policy, including strong and smart border security, and strong support for our service members and veterans.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump has already sacrificed to reach a deal to end the shutdown but that Democrats are uninterested. “The president and his team stayed in Washington over Christmas hoping to negotiate a deal that would stop the dangerous crisis on the border, protect American communities and reopen the government,” Sanders said. “The president does not want the government to remain shut down, but he will not sign a proposal that does not first prioritize our county’s safety and security.”
Trump had originally planned to fly down to his resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on Dec. 21 after signing the short-term extension. The ongoing shutdown, though, could make it politically difficult for Trump to salvage even a portion of his planned 16-day golfing vacation.
Among the agencies whose employees are either working as “essential” or have been furloughed is the Secret Service. If Trump chooses to go to Mar-a-Lago and his nearby golf course in West Palm Beach, he will create the public relations disaster the White House had hoped to avoid: Trump playing golf while the Secret Service protecting him don’t know if they’ll get their next paycheck.