WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that parts of the federal government will stay closed until Democrats agree to put up more walls along the U.S.-Mexico border to deter criminal elements.
He said he’s open to calling the wall something else as long as he ends up with a barrier.
In a Christmas Day appearance in the Oval Office, Trump issued a lengthy defense of his desire for a wall, saying it's the only way to stop drugs and human traffickers from entering the country. In a nod to the political stakes he's facing, Trump said he wants the wall by "election time" in 2020.
The promise of a border wall was a central component of Trump's presidential campaign.
"I can't tell you when the government's going to be open. I can tell you it's not going to be open until we have a wall or fence, whatever they'd like to call it," Trump said, referring to Democrats who staunchly oppose walling off the border.
“I’ll call it whatever they want, but it’s all the same thing,” he told reporters after participating in a holiday video conference with representatives from all five branches of the military stationed in Alaska, Bahrain, Guam and Qatar.
In his call with military commanders, he wished U.S. troops stationed around the country and the globe a merry Christmas.
"I know it's a great sacrifice for you to be away from your families, but I want you to know that every American family is eternally grateful to you, and we're holding you close in our hearts, thoughts and prayers," Trump said. "We love what you do and love your work. Amazing people."
The president is spending his Christmas in Washington because of the stalemate with Congress over government funding that has shuttered nine of 15 Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, including Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, State and Justice.
It has affected the livelihoods of some 800,000 federal employees.
The Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services are among those that Congress has fully funded and will operate as usual.
Trump usually spends Christmas at his Florida estate. He scrapped plans to travel to Palm Beach because of the shutdown.
“I thought it would be wrong for me to be with my family,” he said. “My family is in Florida, Palm Beach, and I just didn’t want to go down and be there when other people are hurting."
Democrats oppose spending any money on a wall or fence, pushing instead for increased use of technology to control access at the border.
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leaders of Congress, blame Trump for the stalemate and for “plunging the country into chaos.”
They pointed to problems beyond the shutdown, including heavy losses on Wall Street and Trump’s decision to fire his defense secretary.
“The president wanted the shutdown, but he seems not to know how to get himself out of it,” they said in a statement.
Trump had said he’d be “proud” to shut down the government in a fight over the wall, but now blames Democrats for refusing to vote for a House-passed bill that includes the $5.7 billion he wants for the wall.
The White House presented a counteroffer over the weekend to Schumer that is between Trump’s $5.7 billion price tag and the $1.3 billion Democrats have offered, said budget director Mick Mulvaney, who will soon be the acting chief of staff.
He did not elaborate, but a Democratic aide granted anonymity to discuss the private talks said the White House offered $2.5 billion - an initial $2.1 billion plus $400 million Democrats called a “slush fund” for the president’s other immigration priorities.
Mulvaney said he was waiting for Schumer’s response. Schumer’s office said the parties remained “very far apart.”
Trump chimed in Monday from the White House, where he has been cooped up in the mansion since Saturday, when the shutdown began. The president, tweeted at one point Monday about feeling lonely.
“I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security,” he tweeted. “At some point the Democrats not wanting to make a deal will cost our Country more money than the Border Wall we are all talking about. Crazy!”
Trump met Monday on border security with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other department officials.
Senate negotiators continued talks behind the scenes with Democrats and Republicans. The House and Senate briefly gaveled into session on Christmas Eve before quickly closing again with no further action.
Mulvaney warned the shutdown could stretch into January, when Democrats are set to take back control the House.
Trump excused federal employees from work on Monday and Christmas is a federal holiday, meaning the public could begin feeling the shutdown’s effects on Wednesday.