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White House pushes long odds strategy for wall

Vice President Mike Pence and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner met Thursday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to discuss border wall legislation. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

The White House has a new, long-shot idea for getting President Donald Trump’s border wall: persuading the Senate to take up the president’s wall request to force a deal with the Democrats, then reopen the government.

As the government shutdown enters its fifth week, the White House wants the Senate to take up legislation that would provide $ 5.7 billion for a barrier along the southern border, among other options that have been discussed with GOP leaders. Vice President Mike Pence and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner met Thursday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and one option batted around was for congressional committees to take up the border request and potentially amend it in committee, all while the government is shutdown, according to a person familiar with the talks.

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But even Republicans on the Hill recognize the idea is a nonstarter. About 10 of them have been urging the White House to accept their proposal to open up the government for three weeks and allow a quick immigration and border debate, because Democrats are resisting any negotiations until government is reopened.

“If there’s not a short-term shutdown [solution] to give us the space to negotiate, the Democrats won’t negotiate,” said a GOP senator in contact with the White House. “We all know the Democrats are unwilling to talk at this point.”

The administration, the senator added, is not fully factoring in that the Senate’s 60-vote threshold will require Democratic support.

“Every time I talk to them. That’s the assumption, that they believe we can just do it,” the senator said.

The discussion among Pence, Kushner and the majority leader centered around the GOP-controlled Senate taking the lead on legislation, given that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is unwilling to take up new border security funding until the government reopens. The White House, however, has opposed a short-term spending bill to do that.

And Democrats are refusing to entertain the White House’s ideas until the funding lapse ends.

In colorful terms, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) summed up the party’s stance toward Trump: “If a kid that is screaming for an ice cream, you can’t give him an ice cream cone. Because if you give in, he’ll never eat his vegetables again.”

The lack of progress on shutdown negotiations prompted a bipartisan group of senators this week to organize a letter that asked Trump to end the shutdown for three weeks in exchange for a debate on immigration and border security. Among the senators leading the effort were Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.).

The letter’s organizers hoped to get 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans to sign on — but several Republicans declined to do so, stating that Trump would not open the government without a border wall. The letter could still be sent.

Senators from both parties voiced frustration with the shutdown on Friday. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who has objected to the Senate adjourning, offered by unanimous consent to bring legislation passed by the House to temporarily fund the Department of Homeland Security. But Senate Republicans blocked that effort.

Ideas intended to break the impasse “seem to be pulled back by those that don’t want us to get out of the mess that we’re in,” groused Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). “And I have a difficult time understanding that.”

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