WASHINGTON — Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters today that the White House has backed down from its $5 billion demand for a border wall, offering a lower number to Democrats last weekend.
No votes were scheduled this week in the House or Senate as congressional leaders agreed to not bring a bill to the floor unless it was agreed to between Democrats and President Trump.
Until then, the partial government shutdown — affecting departments whose appropriations bills weren’t passed, including Homeland Security — that went into effect before Christmas as a result of the stalemate over Trump’s border-wall funding demand remains.
Trump has been venting on Twitter. “Have the Democrats finally realized that we desperately need Border Security and a Wall on the Southern Border. Need to stop Drugs, Human Trafficking,Gang Members & Criminals from coming into our Country. Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?” he said Thursday.
“We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely if the Obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall & also change the ridiculous immigration laws that our Country is saddled with. Hard to believe there was a Congress & President who would approve!” Trump added today.
Mulvaney said Trump is willing to shut down the border, despite the economic hit as $558 billion worth of goods flowed across the border last year, because “all options are on the table” and “it’s the only way we can get the Democrats’ attention.”
Vice President Mike Pence and Mulvaney met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Saturday, and “came down off of our $5 billion offer,” the OMB director said. The Senate bill contains $1.3 billion for border security excluding any concrete wall.
Current fencing has been renovated or upgraded with steel bollard fencing, which Trump refers to as the “steel slats” and has indicated would be acceptable in place of the concrete prototypes the administration has been considering.
“On Saturday afternoon we sat down with Mr. Schumer and gave him a number below 5. I’m not going to tell you what it is,” Mulvaney said. “…We were fully expecting them to come back and continue those negotiations. Last night they called us and said that they weren’t even going to counter that.”
“Here’s what I think is happening. This all comes down to Mrs. Pelosi’s speakership. I think left to his own devices that Chuck Schumer and the Senate Democrats probably would cut a deal but they’re protecting Mrs. Pelosi. She does not have the votes and if she cuts a deal with the president of any sort before her election on Jan. 3 she is at risk of losing her speakership,” he added.
Mulvaney was asked why Trump believes federal employees affected by the shutdown — including the Border Patrol and Coast Guard — are mostly Democrats.
“I think he was trying to point out a political reality which is, let’s face it Northern Virginia, Southern Maryland, D.C. are heavily Democrat areas. OK? Many of the government workers live in these heavily Democrat areas,” he replied.
Trump has also tweeted that he believes most federal employees support a government shutdown in the name of securing border wall funds.
“I think he believes that a lot of people really do believe in border security. I’ve got a lot of messages from my friend think look I’m a Democrat but you’re right about border security. Look at what’s happening in California. Those stories happen too often. Border security is absolutely critical,” Mulvaney said. “We think we have agreement on what we can build. The steel barrier, you’ve seen all of the pictures. The Democrats will admit to you go ask them. Do they think that’s a wall? The answer is no. They do not believe that to be a wall. In their definition as long as it’s not concrete it’s not a wall.”
“So they already told us that building that is appropriate and necessary. It’s what the Customs and Border [Protection] wants. It’s the appropriate barrier to have on the border. This is all about money and all about Nancy’s election.”
Schumer has not commented on the progress of negotiations. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) quipped in an interview with USA Today published Tuesday that Trump’s vision for a big border wall is “down to, I think, a beaded curtain or something — I’m not sure where he is.”
“We made an offer last Saturday night, they told us that they’d get back to us by the end of the week. They got back to us last night and said we’re leaving. That’s it. No more discussions,” Mulvaney told reporters. “So the discussions have broken down. We do expect this to go one for a while. We do expect to manage it. The Smithsonian for example has been open all week. It will be closed after New Year’s.”