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Trump falsely claims Mexico is paying for wall, demands taxpayer money for wall in meeting with Democrats

President Donald Trump, center right, leads a meeting of his Cabinet on Jan. 2, 2019 in Washington. CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bill O’Leary
President Donald Trump, center right, leads a meeting of his Cabinet on Jan. 2, 2019 in Washington. CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Bill O’Leary
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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump rejected a plan from Democrats on Wednesday to reopen key parts of the federal government, as a meeting of the U.S.’s top political leaders ended with few signs of progress toward ending the partial shutdown.

The president is demanding more than $5 billion to build new walls along the U.S.-Mexico border, but Democrats held fast to their opposition Wednesday. House Democrats plan to advance legislation that would reopen key parts of the government but provide Trump no new money for a wall — one of their first acts after taking control of the chamber on Thursday.

But Trump told Congressional leaders he will not sign the measure, said incoming House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

“The president’s not going to sign it. ... Now’s the time to come together, find common ground and solve this problem,” McCarthy said. “I didn’t find the Democrats were wanting to negotiate today.”

After the White House meeting ended with no resolution, Trump summoned congressional leaders back to the White House on Friday for more discussions. But neither side offered any indication a deal was within reach, suggesting the partial shutdown could continue indefinitely.

The 12-day government shutdown has entered a new and unruly phase. Before the meeting, Trump leveled a series of false claims about immigration and the federal budget, as Democrats criticized the president and said they would not yield to his demands.

“We have given the Republicans a chance to take ‘yes’ for an answer,” incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said after the meeting. Earlier, Trump said the shutdown would go on “as long as it takes.”

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The shutdown began Dec. 22, and its impact is spreading, particularly in the Washington region. The Smithsonian Institution closed its museums and the National Zoo on Wednesday. Trash and human waste are piling up at national parks.

The District of Columbia has stopped issuing marriage licenses because of cutbacks to its funding, and the Internal Revenue Service, Securities and Exchange Commission, and a number of other agencies have suspended or scaled back a range of services for families and businesses.

All sides are now locked in a political stalemate, as Republicans control the Senate and the White House while Democrats have seized the House.

There were no signs that anyone planned to budge on Wednesday.

Trump insisted Congress give him $5.6 billion, money that he wants for the construction of 200 miles of wall along the Mexico border.

He has also rejected the negotiating position of his own top advisers. Vice President Mike Pence in recent days approached Democrats with a compromise offer of $2.5 billion for border security and wall improvements. But Trump on Wednesday said he would never accept that deal.

“Somebody said $2.5 (billion),” Trump said to reporters. “No. Look, this is national security we’re talking about.”

But he continued to try and advance false claims about how this money would be used and why it is needed on Wednesday.

He said, for example, that the wall would be paid for under a new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. This is not true. The trade deal has not been approved by Congress, and even if it is approved, there are no provisions in it that create new funding for a wall on the U.S. border.

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He also said in a Twitter post that “Much of the Wall has already been fully renovated or built.” This is also not true. Some wall and fencing has been replaced during the Trump administration, but there is little new wall barriers that have been established along the 2,000-mile border.

And in remarks to reporters during a cabinet meeting, Trump estimated that there are between 30 million and 35 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. That number is roughly triple the estimate his own Department of Homeland Security offered several weeks ago.

Democrats have responded to Trump’s demands by flatly rejecting any funding for a border wall, leading to complaints about intransigence from the White House. Pelosi is under extreme pressure from liberal groups not to give in to White House pressure.

McCarthy said Trump wanted to have the next meeting on Friday, after leadership elections in Congress, and Trump has suggested Pelosi is opposing money for the border wall because she is worried about losing support from liberals. But Pelosi has rejected the notion she is opposing the wall for purely political purposes, and many Democrats have rallied to her defense.

Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and earlier in his presidency, Trump told voters he said he would build a concrete wall, 30-feet tall in most places, to keep people out. He also promised Mexico would pay for the wall. Since becoming president, though, he has shifted this promise, saying the money must come from U.S. taxpayers.

During the shutdown, Trump has offered much different descriptions of the barrier he wants to build along the Mexico border. He has said at times it would be a traditional wall, but he has also rejected the idea of a wall and described it as a series of “steel slats.” He recently offered a picture on Twitter of a series of vertical posts with pointy tips, but other government officials said they were not planning to erect anything that looked like this.

The shutdown began after Trump rejected bipartisan congressional efforts to fund many operations through Feb. 8, insisting that any deal must contain money for the construction of a border wall. His demand infuriated many Republicans who had been working to avoid a shutdown, but most have followed his lead and are insisting Democrats broker some sort of compromise.

Democrats sought to ramp up pressure on Republicans Wednesday to reopen the government.

“I said ‘Mr. President, give me one good reason why you should continue your shutdown,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said after the White House meeting. “He could not give a good answer.”

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Despite the far-reaching impacts of the shutdown, much of the federal government has not been touched. Major agencies like the Pentagon and the Health and Human Services Department have already been funded through the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, thanks to spending bills passed by Congress earlier last year.

House Democrats Thursday plan to pass two bills: one to fund the Homeland Security Department at current levels through Feb. 8, which would continue $1.3 billion in border barrier funding; and the other to fund the rest of the government through Sept. 30, at levels negotiated on a bipartisan basis in the Senate.

That would make it possible for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to send Trump a bill to reopen most of the government, while setting aside the fight over the wall.

The last time Schumer and Pelosi met Trump at the White House, on Dec. 11, it turned into a bizarre televised squabble during which Trump claimed he would be “proud” to shut down the government over the wall, and insisted he would take ownership of any shutdown. Since the partial shutdown began on Dec. 22, though, Trump has sought to brand it the “Schumer Shutdown.”

Democrats have signaled a willingness to approve $1.3 billion in funds for border security in an extension of existing spending levels, a portion of which can be used to replace and repair existing sections of wall and fencing. But they have drawn the line at the use of any taxpayer money for the erection of a new wall.

The agencies that are unfunded and in shutdown mode include the Homeland Security Department that pays for the wall, as well as the Agriculture, Justice, Interior, Transportation, State and Housing departments. NASA is also partially shut down, along with the National Park Service and an array of smaller agencies.

Some 800,000 federal workers are impacted, including around 350,000 who have been furloughed while the rest stay on the job wondering whether they will end up getting paid. In past shutdowns, Congress has approved retroactive pay once the impasse has been resolved. But the many government contractors who are affected may never recoup their lost paychecks.

The current shutdown is the longest since a 16-day partial shutdown in 2013 over the Affordable Care Act.

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