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Trump and lawmakers set to face off in breakneck shutdown talks

President Donald Trump, pictured here with Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, Vice President Mike Pence, Rep. Steve Scalise and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, said on Tuesday he hoped Democrats will “rise above partisan politics in order to support national security.” | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Government Shutdown

But both sides are showing little signs of moving from their dug-in positions on Trump’s border wall demands.

President Donald Trump and congressional leaders are preparing Wednesday for a breakneck series of meetings aimed at ending a 19-day partial government shutdown. But each side’s position on Trump’s border wall demands are as stubborn as ever, with no signs that a compromise is emerging.

Trump will meet with Senate Republicans for their party lunch at the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon, along with Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Then the president and the top Senate and House leaders in each party will huddle at the White House at 3 p.m., the third such bipartisan meeting in a week’s time.

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The president, in a rare Oval Office address, suggested on Tuesday night that the conflict “could be solved in a 45-minute meeting.” But Democratic leaders and staffers have spent hours and hours holed up with Pence, Trump and other White House officials to no avail.

“We’re ready to negotiate: After government reopens,” said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat who has now met with Trump multiple times. “If this becomes a blunt instrument against the Democratic House to just shut down the government and imperil the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, we’ve got to take a position.”

The shutdown meetings come after Trump as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tried to reframe the debate on Tuesday night in national addresses that largely repeated their well-stated positions. Trump will not sign a government funding bill without getting more than $ 5 billion in money for a physical barrier on the border, and Democrats will not give more than $ 1.3 billion.

Both sides seemed headed for more partisan clashes: Schumer and Pelosi planned a news conference before the White House meetings, and Trump is expected to travel to the border on Thursday to continue making his case for more wall money.

The president is also weighing a national emergency declaration to build the border wall with Democrats so entrenched in opposition to his wall. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close Trump ally, said that such a move is a “last resort” and said he believes Trump can still win the wall fight with Democrats.

“There’s a crisis at the border, we need more money,” Graham said. The national emergency “only happens if we completely get stuck up here. That’s not the preferred route.”

After it was pointed out that Congress seems stuck, Graham shrugged. But some members of Congress are growing more antsy as the shutdown persists.

A handful of House and Senate Republicans are calling for the government to reopen and then negotiate on border security, boosting Democratic hopes for a rebellion against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Senate Democrats are tanking unrelated legislation, hoping to keep attention on McConnell and his resistance to taking up House-passed government funding bills.

“Separate the shutdown from the arguments over border security,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Tuesday night. “Reopen government while allowing debate over border security to continue.”

But that strategy hasn’t resonated with McConnell, who is running for reelection and is unlikely to undercut the president on his chief political priority. It’s not just the GOP leader who is unmoved: Little in Washington has changed over the past 19 days other than growing worry about the shutdown affecting travel, tourism, agriculture and other staples of the American economy.

Donald Trump

“We’re concerned about all the aspects of the shutdown,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican who will attend both meetings. He said he hoped the meeting would be “constructive in terms of getting to a final agreement. I hope that there’s a sense of urgency on both sides.”

Trump believes he has made a concession by agreeing to make the wall out of steel instead of concrete and said on Tuesday he hoped Democrats will “rise above partisan politics in order to support national security.” But with polls showing that voters still blame the president for the shutdown and Trump himself taking ownership for it in December, Democrats feel little urgency to shift their tactics.

“President Trump tried to make the case that there is [a] crisis at our southern border that only a wall can solve,” said Senate Appropriations ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). “But the real crisis is being inflicted upon millions of Americans by the president’s costly and senseless shutdown.”

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