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Trump to clash with Dem leaders in first meeting since shutdown

President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders are heading into another confrontation over the president’s demands for more border wall money. Neither side seems to be backing down despite the government shutdown. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Donald Trump and Democratic leaders are heading into yet another confrontation over the president’s demands for more border wall money, a clash that highlights the slim chances of a quick end to a partial government shutdown now dragging into its 12th day.

With the president set to host congressional leaders on Wednesday afternoon, presumptive Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) huddled for about 45 minutes in Pelosi’s new chambers in the Capitol. Schumer emerged to proclaim he and Pelosi are united around her plans to try and reopen the government with no border wall funding despite Trump’s opposition.

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He said that the White House’s attempts to drive a wedge between them is “not going to work” after officials have claimed that Schumer is more eager to make a deal than Pelosi.

“There’s never been a time when we’re not on the same page,” Schumer said of his work with Pelosi. Asked if the shutdown would end soon, Schumer said: “It’s up to President Trump, we hope so.”

Yet Trump was showing no signs of backing down himself. In a meeting with Cabinet officials, Trump said bluntly: “We are in a shutdown because Democrats refuse to fund border security.” He also pulled the rug out from a compromise offer spearheaded by Vice President Mike Pence that would have provided about half of the $ 5 billion that Trump has sought from Democrats.

“$ 5.6 billion is such a small number,” he said.

The shutdown is now beginning to sting, with the holidays over and the highly visible Smithsonian museums closing as well as trash receptacles overflowing at federal parks in D.C. But that fallout hasn’t created any apparent incentive for Democrats and the president to budge on their central disagreement: Trump’s demands for more border barrier money than the $ 1.3 billion that Democrats have offered.

The president initially said he would own the shutdown but has repeatedly portrayed Democrats as intransigent in recent days, though Pelosi’s new majority is set to pass on Thursday a package of spending bills reopening much of the 25 percent of the government that’s been closed since Dec. 21. The House is also expected to pass a bill funding the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8.

Still, Republicans said the president will use his face-to-face meeting with Capitol Hill leaders Wednesday afternoon to try to find a way out of the partial government shutdown.

Trump will “try to figure out whether he can strike a deal” with Democrats, according to a senior GOP lawmaker. The 3 p.m. meeting between the White House and congressional leaders of both parties is the first sit-down since the shutdown started before Christmas. But Democrats aren’t expecting an immediate breakthrough.

Discussions will take place as larger swaths of the country start to feel pain from the shutdown, from the closing of museums in the nation’s capital to a temporary halt to rural agriculture loans.

The meeting with the top two leaders from each party in the House and Senate — which has been specifically billed as a briefing on border security by top officials from the Department of Homeland Security — is hardly expected to end the budget impasse, however.

“It’s not a meeting, it is a briefing. We expect a one-sided, non-factual presentation. Expect Democrats to again have to correct the record in the meeting and afterward,” a senior Democratic aide said Wednesday, which is technically the final day of a fully GOP-controlled government.

The briefing is being held in the White House Situation Room, a move that may be intended to add some theatrical flourish for Trump as he tries to sell the public on the need for tougher border security.

Despite their view of the event as a stunt, Democrats said they could get something out of the visit with Trump.

Donald Trump

“Not often the president gets to hear people tell him when he’s wrong. Democrats intend to do that today,” said Justin Goodman, a Schumer spokesman.

Democrats remain firmly opposed to devoting more taxpayer dollars to Trump’s border wall, and have hatched their own plan to reopen government this week without any new border money. The White House rejected that plan on Tuesday night, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying any funding bill without that additional cash would be a “nonstarter.”

On Thursday, Pelosi and the Democrats will retake control of the House, swearing in a robust freshman class that is eager to deny Trump his long-sought border money.

The Democrats plan is intended to put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who, like Pelosi, is a former appropriator who has opposed a shutdown from the start. McConnell, however, has said he will only put a spending plan on the floor that has explicit backing from the president. And Sanders made clear Tuesday night that the White House does not support the Democrats’ proposal.

“The Pelosi plan is a non-starter because it does not fund our homeland security or keep American families safe from human trafficking, drugs, and crime,” Sanders said.

Meanwhile, the stakes are getting higher for federal workers, with roughly 380,000 people told to stay home Wednesday. Another 420,000 people have been told to work without pay, with no guarantee that their next paycheck will go out.

Across the country, the shutdown is causing more pain as federal entities are forced to shutter operations as they run out of back-up plans to get cash — including in parts of the country that voted for Trump. Starting Jan. 1, the Department of Agriculture will no longer issue new loans for rural development or grants for housing.

There are other looming deadlines. For instance, the next federal pay period ends on Jan. 5, though checks don’t go out until the following week. On Jan. 11, the budgets for federal courts is expected to run dry, after largely operating on court fees and other funds for weeks.

John Bresnahan and Heather Caygle contributed to this report.

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