Donald Trump has dismissed a proposal from a key Republican ally in congress that would end the longest US government shutdown in American history, declaring that he would “never ever back down” over border security.
Twenty-four days into the partial shutdown, Lindsey Graham indicated he discussed the option of reopening the government temporarily as negotiations continue with Democrats. They have refused to sanction a demand from the president for $5.7bn to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.
Mr Graham’s idea had seen some support from Democrats, but the president declined to bite.
“I’m not interested,” Mr Trump said on Monday as he made his way to New Orleans, where he gave a speech to a farming convention. “I want it solved. I don’t want to just delay it. I want to get it solved”.
The comment came just hours after the president tweeted that he had been “waiting all weekend” to negotiate with congressional Democrats to reopen the government and that he believed an end could be negotiated in 15 minutes.
Mr Trump last week reportedly stormed out of a White House conference room after asking Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi if she would sanction border wall funding if he approved legislation to reopen the government. Ms Pelosi refused the offer.
Mr Graham had made his suggestion during an appearance on Fox News on Sunday, when he appeared to try to steer the president away from declaring a state of emergency to build the wall.
He said: “Before he pulls the plug on the legislative option, and I think we’re almost there, I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug, see if we can get a deal. If we can’t at the end of three weeks, all bets are off.”
Having dismissed that option while leaving the White House, Mr Trump used his speech in New Orleans to say there was “no substitute” for a physical barrier along the southern border with Mexico. He also accused Democrats of playing politics in refusing to negotiate on the issue.
“They think if they stop me, it’ll be good for 2020,” Mr Trump said of Democrats in congress. “We need that barrier. If you don’t have that barrier there, there is not a thing you can do.”
However, with the shutdown having left 800,000 federal workers without pay, there are signs that Mr Trump is beginning to lose the battle for public opinion.
A Quinnipiac University poll released on Monday found that 63 per cent of voters agree with the longstanding Democrat proposal to reopen parts of the government that do not involve border security, with 30 per cent opposed. The same poll found 63 per cent of respondents also oppose using the shutdown to force wall funding, with 32 per cent supporting Mr Trump’s stance. The poll also found that 56 per cent of American voters blame Mr Trump and Republicans in congress for the partial shutdown.
Frustrations are beginning to build across the country, with families worried about rent and unpaid bills, while a number of services and agencies have been deeply affected.
Air travellers endured long waits to get through domestic checkpoints at the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International, on Monday, as the number of security screeners not showing up for work continued to rise. Most Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers are required to report to work but are not being paid, meaning an absentee rate of 7.6 per cent across airports nationally.
There are also signs that other Republicans have also grown weary of watching Mr Trump continue his charge for wall funding at the expense of the federal government, and some notable defections have been registered.
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, for instance, raised concerns about the “indefinite state of impasse”. Ms Murkowski is among three Senate Republicans who have called on Mr Trump to reopen the government.
“It’s just not good for any of us,” she said during an appearance on CNN.
When asked about Mr Trump’s rejection of the three week offer, Ms Murkowski responded: “Well, then Mr President, when are you going to help us open the government?”
Perhaps aware of a shifting in the mood of the nation, Mr Trump backed further away from the idea of declaring a national emergency over immigration on the border in order to appropriate funds for the wall without congressional approval. It is something Mr Trump has said he would do if required, despite Democrats calling it unnecessary and a possible overreach of executive powers. “I’m not looking to call a national emergency,” Mr Trump said on Monday. ”This is so simple, we shouldn’t have to.”
In the House of Representatives, Democrats are looking to keep the pressure up on Mr Trump by holding votes on two more bills aimed at re-opening the government. One bill would do so until 1 February, and a second would reopen it until 28 February. Neither bill, one of six having gone through the Democrat-controlled House, would provide funding for the wall.
Representative Nita Lowey of New York said the bills offer “additional options” to end the shutdown and would give time for negotiations on border security and immigration. However, the leading Republican in the GOP-controlled Senate, Mitch McConnell, has said the upper chamber will not take up a vote on anything Mr Trump would not sign.
Associated Press contributed to this report
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