U.S. air safety agents absences hit record level; shutdown in Day 31

FILE PHOTO: Long lines are seen at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security checkpoint at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport amid the partial federal government shutdown, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

By David Shepardson and Katanga Johnson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Transportation Security Administration, where employees are going unpaid amid a partial government shutdown, said on Monday that unscheduled absences among U.S. airport security officers rose to a record 10 percent on Sunday as the shutdown reached its 31st day.

The agency said the rate was up from the previous high of 7 percent on Saturday. It also was more than three times the 3.1 percent absence rate on the same day last year, when the government also was partially closed due to legislative funding issues.

As the partial government shutdown continues, air safety has become a top concern as the number of TSA agents not showing up for work grows.

The agency said many employees, who are not being paid because of the shutdown, are not reporting to work because of financial hardships.

More than 50,000 TSA officers are among some 800,000 federal workers have been ordered to stay home or work without pay during the shutdown. [nL1N1ZK05R]

Nearly all 1.78 million passengers screened Sunday faced normal security waits of 30 minutes or less, despite the absences, TSA said.

Some airports experienced longer wait times at security checkpoints, and on Sunday, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport closed one of its checkpoints because of excessive absences.

About one-quarter of the U.S. government has been shuttered since Dec. 22 over Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to fund a wall along the border with Mexico, which Democrats have refused to consider.

The promise of a border wall was a mainstay of Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign. As a candidate, he said Mexico would pay for the barrier, but the Mexican government has refused.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Katanga Johnson; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Chris Sanders and Bill Trott)

White House restricts U.S. lawmakers’ travel amid shutdown

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, U.S., January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration has barred U.S. congressional travel on government-owned or operated aircraft during the partial government shutdown, unless they have White House approval, according to a memo issued on Friday by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The move marks an escalation by the White House, which on Thursday blocked U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from using a military plane for a congressional trip to Afghanistan. Pelosi’s office accused the administration of leaking commercial travel plans on Friday, which a White House official has denied.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Susan Heavey)

Trump cancels planned Davos trip as shutdown drags on

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a televised address to the nation from his desk in the Oval Office about immigration and the southern U.S. border on the 18th day of a partial government shutdown at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday canceled a planned visit later this month to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, signaling he was prepared for the political showdown over the partial federal government shutdown to stretch into late January.

It was unclear whether the shutdown, now in its 20th day, would end before the start of the global economic meeting, which is scheduled for Jan. 22 to 25. Trump and congressional Democrats are in a battle over funding for the government and Trump’s long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Because of the Democrats intransigence on Border Security and the great importance of Safety for our Nation, I am respectfully cancelling my very important trip to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The president had told reporters at the White House earlier on Thursday that he intended to speak at the forum but would not attend if the shutdown continued.

The cancellation quashes any opportunity for Trump to meet with other world leaders about economic issues, including trade.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters after a briefing with lawmakers on Capitol Hill that he was talking with the White House about whether he would still make the trip to Switzerland.

“My guess is if we do continue it, it will be in a scaled-back version,” Mnuchin said.

The Trump administration is engaged in trade talks with the European Union and China, among others.

China and the United States have agreed to a 90-day pause in implementing tariffs in order to hammer out a trade deal.

China’s vice president, Wang Qishan, was expected to attend the Swiss meeting, but it was unclear whether any talks had been planned between him and Trump.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Makini Brice; Writing by Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Peter Cooney)

U.S. government shutdown drags into fourth week amid stalemate

Travelers wait in a security line at Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., January 13, 2019. REUTERS/David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A partial government shutdown entered its 24th day on Monday as talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats remained stalled even as some of Trump’s fellow Republicans called on the president to cut a deal and strains mounted nationwide.

Trump appeared unmoved to act, however, retweeting criticism of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer that urged the top Democratic leaders to negotiate with him over funding for his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I’ve been waiting all weekend. Democrats must get to work now. Border must be secured!” Trump wrote in an early morning tweet on Monday.

Democrats have rejected Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for the border wall in addition to other border funds but have said they would support $1.3 billion to bolster border security in other ways, including beefing up the number of Border Patrol agents and increasing surveillance.

About one-quarter of the U.S. government shut down last month as Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress as well as the White House. In December Trump said he would take responsibility for the shutdown but has since shifted the blame to Democrats. A growing proportion of Americans blame Trump for the closures, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found.

He now must win concessions from the Democrats, who took over the U.S. House of Representatives this month following November’s elections. He also must win over enough Senate Democrats to secure the 60 votes needed to pass funding legislation there.

The stress from the shutdown became more visible as 800,000 federal employees across the United States missed their first paychecks on Friday. The cut government services also affected travelers as a jump in unscheduled absences among federal airport security screeners forced partial closures of airports in Houston and Miami.

National parks also remain shuttered, food and drug inspections have been curtailed and key economic data is on hold, among other impacts. Federal courts are set to run out of money on Friday.

ADDRESS TO FARMERS

Later on Monday, Trump is scheduled to address a New Orleans gathering of farmers, a key bloc of Trump supporters who have been hit by the shutdown as federal loan and farm aid applications have stalled and key farming and crop data has been delayed.

Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, who last week had called on Trump to declare a national emergency as a way to get money to build his wall, on Sunday urged the president to instead reopen the government for a short period of time in an effort to restart talks before taking such action.

Declaring a national emergency over immigration issues is fiercely opposed by Democrats and remains unpopular with some Republicans. It also would likely face an immediate legal challenge.

Pelosi called on the Republican-led Senate to vote on several bills passed earlier this month by the House to fund affected departments that do not include money for Trump’s wall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not take up any legislation that does not have Trump’s support.

Representatives for Schumer could not be immediately reached for comment on Monday.

Both the Senate and the House were scheduled to reconvene on Monday afternoon, despite a weekend winter storm shuttered much of the Washington area and it remained unclear what, if any, steps lawmakers might take to address the lapsed funding measures for affected agencies.

Senator Chris Coons on Monday reiterated fellow Democrats’ call for Trump to reopen the government while negotiations over the wall and immigration continue.

He acknowledged efforts by Graham and other Republicans to forge a temporary solution but said Trump has been unpredictable even among fellow conservatives with ever-shifting positions.

“Every time they make progress, the president throws cold water on it,” Coons told CNN in an interview.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bill Trott)

Air travel fears mount as U.S. government shutdown drags on

An employee with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checks the documents of a traveler at Reagan National Airport in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. airport security workers and air traffic controllers working without pay warned that security and safety could be compromised if a government shutdown continues beyond Friday when some workers will miss their first paychecks.

On the 19th day of a partial government shutdown caused by a dispute over funding President Donald Trump wants for a border wall, the president stormed out of talks with Democratic congressional leaders, complaining the meeting was “a total waste of time.”

As the effects of the shutdown began to ripple out, the Trump administration insisted that air travel staffing was adequate and travelers had not faced unusual delays.

But union officials said some Transport Security Administration (TSA) officers, who carry out security screening in airports, had already quit because of the shutdown and others were considering quitting.

“The loss of (TSA) officers, while we’re already shorthanded, will create a massive security risk for American travelers since we don’t have enough trainees in the pipeline or the ability to process new hires,” American Federation of Government Employees TSA Council President Hydrick Thomas said. “If this keeps up there are problems that will arise – least of which would be increased wait times for travelers.”

Aviation unions, airport and airline officials and lawmakers will hold a rally on Thursday outside Congress urging an end to the shutdown.

TSA spokesman Michael Bilello said the organization was hiring officers and working on contingency plans in case the shutdown lasted beyond Friday, when officers would miss their first paycheck since the shutdown began on Dec. 22.

“There has been no degradation in security effectiveness and average wait times are well within TSA standards,” he said.

He added that there had been no spike in employees quitting and that on Tuesday 5 percent of officers took unscheduled leave, up just slightly from 3.9 percent the same day last year. It screened 1.73 million passengers and 99.9 percent of passengers waited less than 30 minutes, the TSA said.

But U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security committee, questioned how long adequate staffing at airports could continue.

“TSA officers are among the lowest paid federal employees, with many living paycheck-to-paycheck,” Thompson wrote. “It is only reasonable to expect officer call outs and resignations to increase the longer the shutdown lasts, since no employee can be expected to work indefinitely without pay.”

Airports Council International-North America, which represents U.S. airports, urged Trump and congressional leaders in a letter to quickly reopen the government.

“TSA staffing shortages brought on by this shutdown are likely to further increase checkpoint wait times and may even lead to the complete closure of some checkpoints,” the group said.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) noted that the number of controllers was already at a 30-year low, with 18 percent of controllers eligible to retire.

If a significant number of controllers missed work, the Federal Aviation Administration could be forced to extend the amount of time between takeoffs and landings, which could delay travel, it said.

NATCA President Paul Rinaldi said controllers often must work overtime and six-day weeks at short-staffed locations. “If the staffing shortage gets worse, we will see reduced capacity in the National Airspace System, meaning more flight delays,” Rinaldi said.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Diane Craft and Rosalba O’Brien)

Trump heads to U.S. border with Mexico to press case for wall

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs for a visit to the U.S. southern border area in Texas from the White House in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump heads to Texas on Thursday to press his case that the country is facing a crisis that can only be solved by spending billions of dollars to construct a wall along the border with Mexico.

His trip to the border town of McAllen, Texas, comes on the 20th day of a partial government shutdown that has left hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work or working without pay, while Trump and fellow Republicans fight with Democrats over his demand for $5.7 billion this year to construct the barrier.

Trump’s plan to build a wall at the southern border was a central promise of his 2016 presidential campaign. He said last month he would be “proud” to shut the government down over the issue but has since blamed Democrats.

He also has been considering whether to declare a national emergency and use it to circumvent Congress by building the wall with money allocated for the Department of Defense. Democrats who control the House of Representatives refuse to approve the wall funding.

Critics say such a move by Trump would be illegal and plan to immediately challenge it in court. Even some Republicans who want to build a wall have said they do not want money to be taken from the military to pay for it.

Trump will travel to Texas with the state’s two U.S. senators, Republicans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. After Trump’s midday visit, Cornyn will host a roundtable discussion with area mayors, judges, law enforcement personnel and others involved with the border issue.

On Dec. 22, about 25 percent of the government – excluding mainly the Department of Defense and health-related programs – shut down because of Congress’ inability to complete work by a September deadline on funding all government agencies.

Backed by most Republicans in Congress, as well as his most ardent supporters, Trump has said he will not sign any bill to reopen the government that does not provide the funds he wants for the wall.

“There is GREAT unity with the Republicans in the House and Senate, despite the Fake News Media working in overdrive to make the story look otherwise,” Trump tweeted on Thursday ahead of his departure. “The Opposition Party & the Dems know we must have Strong Border Security, but don’t want to give ‘Trump’ another one of many wins!”

ACRIMONIOUS MEETING

The impasse has continued while Trump’s meetings with Democratic congressional leaders have ended in acrimony. On Wednesday, he stormed out of a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, calling it “a total waste of time.”

Trump says undocumented immigrants and illegal drugs are streaming across the border from Mexico, despite statistics that show illegal immigration there is at a 20-year low and that many drug shipments likely are smuggled through legal ports of entry.

Democrats accuse Trump of using fear tactics and spreading misinformation about the border situation in order to fulfill a 2016 campaign promise as he looks toward his race for re-election in 2020.

The president has been working to make his case to the public, and bolster any congressional Republicans who might be wavering.

Pressure on them could intensify on Friday when about 800,000 federal employees – including border patrol agents and airport security screeners – miss their first paychecks.

On Tuesday, Trump said in his first prime-time television address from the Oval Office that there was a growing security and humanitarian crisis at the border.

On Wednesday, he visited Republican lawmakers at the U.S. Capitol, emerging from a meeting to say his party was “very unified.”

Less than two hours later, eight Republicans in the House voted with majority Democrats on a bill that would reopen the Treasury Department and some other programs and did not include any funding for the wall.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear, however, that he will not allow that chamber to vote on any measure that does not include wall funding.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Peter Cooney and Bill Trott)

In Oval Office speech, Trump demands a wall but does not declare emergency

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a televised address to the nation from his desk in the Oval Office, about immigration and the southern U.S. border on the 18th day of a partial government shutdown, at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump urged Congress in a televised speech on Tuesday to give him $5.7 billion this year to help build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico but stopped short of declaring a national emergency to pay for the barrier with military funds.

Facing Democratic opposition in Congress to a wall that he promised to build as a presidential candidate, Trump said in his first prime-time address from the Oval Office that there was a growing security and humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Using blunt language in an attempt to win public support, the Republican president said illegal immigrants and drugs flowing across the southern border posed a serious threat to American safety.

“How much more American blood must be shed before Congress does its job?” he said, recounting gruesome details of murders he said were committed by illegal immigrants.

But after days of hinting he might use presidential powers to declare an emergency as a first step toward directing money for the wall without congressional approval, Trump said he would continue seeking a solution to the impasse with Congress.

Trump’s speech came 18 days into a partial government shutdown precipitated by his demand for the wall. Public opposition to the shutdown is growing and that could hurt Trump, as he said last month he would be proud to close the government to fight for the wall.

Democratic leaders, in a rebuttal also carried live on national television, accused the president on Tuesday night of using fear tactics and spreading misinformation about the situation along the border.

“The president has chosen fear. We want to start with the facts,” said Nancy Pelosi, Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives.

“The fact is, President Trump has chosen to hold hostage critical services for the health, safety and well-being of the American people and withhold the paychecks of 800,000 innocent workers across the nation, many of them veterans,” she said.

BLAME GAME

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday found that 51 percent of adults mainly blamed Trump for the shutdown, up 4 percentage points from late December, while 32 percent blamed congressional Democrats and 7 percent faulted Republicans in Congress.

Republican lawmakers have increasingly expressed concerns about Trump’s handling of the long-running dispute.

But he has shown no signs of giving up. He is scheduled to visit the southwest border on Thursday and may still choose to make the national emergency declaration.

Vice President Mike Pence told reporters on Monday the president was considering the possibility and the White House counsel’s office was studying its legality.

Democrats and other opponents of a wall have threatened to take legal action if Trump issues an emergency order.

They say he is manufacturing a crisis in a bid to meet his 2016 presidential campaign promise for a wall that he said at the time would be paid for by Mexico. The Mexican government has refused to provide such funds.

Trump was to meet at the White House on Wednesday with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders.

Politics colored the remarks from both sides on Tuesday.

Trump said African-Americans and Hispanics were especially hard hit by the border crisis; both groups are key Democratic constituencies. Pelosi pointedly mentioned that veterans were hurt by the shutdown; Trump has courted veterans as a candidate and as president.

Trump at times tried to adopt a softer tone. “This is a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul,” he said, suggesting that women and children were among the migrants often victimized by trafficking across the border.

Hoping to demonstrate flexibility during his nearly 10-minute speech, Trump said of the border barrier he wants to be built: “At the request of the Democrats it will be a steel barrier and not a concrete wall.”

But Democrats have opposed not just the construction materials to be used, but the extent of a project that could end up costing more than $24 billion over the long run.

Democrats also argue that a mix of fencing, which already has been constructed in many parts of the border, and higher-tech tools would be cheaper and more effective in securing the border.

Pelosi said Trump rejected bipartisan legislation to reopen the government agencies shuttered as a result of the fight over the wall, and that he was obsessed with “forcing American taxpayers to waste billions of dollars on an expensive and ineffective wall.”

She has previously called the wall immoral. Trump took issue with that in his speech.

“The only thing that is immoral is the politicians to do nothing and continue to allow more innocent people to be so horribly victimized,” he said.

U.S. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who delivered a rebuttal along with Pelosi, urged the president to reopen the government while the debate over immigration policies continued.

“The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall,” he said. “So our suggestion is a simple one. Mr. President: Reopen the government and we can work to resolve our differences over border security. But end this shutdown now.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker, Eric Beech and David Alexander in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Trump to travel to U.S.-Mexico border on Thursday: White House

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters in the Rose Garden after a meeting with U.S. Congressional leaders about the partial U.S. government shutdown and border security at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump plans to visit the U.S. southern border on Thursday, leaving Washington for the first time since the partial federal shutdown began 16 days ago over his demand for funding for a wall along the border with Mexico.

The Republican president showed no sign of backing off his pledge to build a wall, which he says is necessary to stem illegal immigration. Democrats in Congress disagree, with new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling the building of a wall “immoral.”

Trump skipped a planned trip to Florida to stay in the U.S. capital during the Christmas and New Year’s holiday after large chunks of the federal government were shuttered on Dec. 22. He exhorted Democrats in Congress to “come back from vacation” and approve funding for his wall.

Democrats returned to Washington in the new year, taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives, and passed legislation to reopen all closed government agencies but did not include wall funding. This week, they will pass a series of bills to reopen federal agencies after weekend talks between the Trump administration and Democratic negotiators failed to end a stalemate.

The White House did not provide details of Trump’s trip, but the planned visit will likely highlight security concerns pushed by the administration as justification for the wall.

“President @realDonaldTrump will travel to the Southern border on Thursday to meet with those on the front lines of the national security and humanitarian crisis,” White House spokesman Sarah Sanders said in a Twitter post on Monday.

She said details would be announced soon.

Lawmakers and Trump hit an impasse last month over Trump’s demand that a bill to keep the federal government operational include money to help build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. About 800,000 government workers are either furloughed or working without pay.

On Sunday, Trump pledged not to bend in his demand for $5.6 billion to pay for the wall but said the barrier could be made of steel instead of concrete as a potential compromise with Democrats who refuse to fund it.

Trump has argued the wall is necessary for national security and has tried to link terrorism to illegal immigration, without providing evidence, as justification for the plan. Democrats say the wall is expensive and inefficient, as well as contrary to American values.

Trump visited the southern border last March.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Tim Ahmann; Editing by David Alexander and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Trump holds firm on border wall, offers steel option as compromise

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he returns from Camp David to the White House in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Jeff Mason and Ginger Gibson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump pledged on Sunday not to bend in his demand for a wall along the southern border with Mexico but said the barrier could be made of steel instead of concrete as a potential compromise with Democrats who refuse to fund it.

Trump’s comments came at the start of the third week of a partial government shutdown resulting from the dispute that has left hundreds of thousands of federal workers idled or without paychecks.

Trump threatened again, without providing specifics on where the funding would originate, to declare a national emergency as an alternative way to build the wall, depending on the outcome of talks in the coming days.

Democrats have declined to approve the $5.6 billion Trump wants to fulfill a 2016 campaign promise to curb illegal immigration. Led by new Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrats passed a bill in the House of Representatives last week to reopen the government without wall funding. Pelosi has called a border wall immoral.

“This is a very important battle to win from the standpoint of safety, number one, (and) defining our country and who we are,” Trump told reporters at the White House before leaving for a short trip to the Camp David presidential retreat.

“The barrier, or the wall, can be of steel instead of concrete if that helps people. It may be better,” he said.

The White House painted that offer, which Trump floated previously, as an olive branch.

In a letter to congressional leaders on Sunday detailing its funding demands, the Trump administration included a request for an additional $800 million to address urgent humanitarian needs at the southern border.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s acting chief of staff, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that agreeing to a steel barrier would allow Democrats to stick to their refusal to fund a wall.

“That should help us move in the right direction,” he said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer did not show his hand when asked whether the White House offer to move away from a concrete structure was evidence of compromise.

“It’ll be discussed,” he said on NBC.

Vice President Mike Pence led a second round of talks with congressional aides on Sunday about the issue, but Trump said he did not expect those talks to produce results, noting that the principals – himself, Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer – were the ones who could solve it quickly.

“If we don’t find a solution, it’s going to go on for a long time. There’s not going to be any bend right here,” Trump said.

He later tweeted that the Pence talks were productive. But a Democratic aide familiar with the meeting said Democrats urged the White House to pass measures to reopen the government without wall funding and Pence said Trump would not do that. The aide said no progress was made and no further meetings of the group were scheduled.

OTHER CONCESSIONS?

Democrats could demand other concessions from the White House, such as protections for immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children, known as Dreamers, or changes to other spending provisions. Trump said he wanted to help on the Dreamer issue but preferred to wait for a Supreme Court ruling on it first.

Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin reacted coolly to Trump’s suggestion of declaring a national emergency. “I don’t know what he’s basing this on, but he’s faced so many lawsuits when he ignores the law and ignores tradition and precedent,” Durbin said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Large chunks of the federal government were shut down on Dec. 22 after lawmakers and the president hit an impasse over Trump’s demand that a bill to keep the federal government operational include money to help build a $23 billion wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. About 800,000 government workers are either furloughed or working without pay.

“I can relate,” Trump, a former New York businessman, said when asked if he could relate to the pain of federal workers struggling to pay their bills. “I’m sure that the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustments.” Asked if workers would get paid on Friday, Trump said: “We’ll see whether or not it’s settled.”

Not all Republicans agree with Trump’s insistence on keeping government agencies shuttered until the border debate is resolved.

“It is not a sign of weakness to try to figure out a middle ground, and I think that both sides need to indicate a willingness to listen and to compromise, U.S. Senator Susan Collins of Maine said on NBC. She called the debate over using steel versus concrete “bizarre.”

House Democrats plan to pass a series of bills this week to reopen government, breaking up legislation they have already approved in a bid to get Republicans to agree to reopen certain agencies, Hoyer said on “Meet the Press.”

“We need to open up government and then negotiate. Not the other way around,” he said.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Ginger Gibson; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker and Pete Schroeder; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Peter Cooney)

U.S. government shutdown grinds on, Trump threatens emergency powers

U.S. President Donald Trump works at his desk in the Oval Office as he prepares to speak to reporters in the Rose Garden after a meeting with U.S. Congressional leaders about the government shutdown at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Richard Cowan and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump and senior Democrats failed to strike a deal in talks on Friday to end a partial shutdown of the U.S. government as they again fought over Trump’s request for $5 billion to fund his signature wall on the Mexican border.

After Democratic congressional leaders turned Trump down at a meeting in the White House Situation Room, the Republican president threatened to take the controversial step of using emergency powers to build the wall without approval from Congress.

Trump is withholding his support for a bill that would fully fund the government until he secures the money for the wall. As a result around 800,000 public workers have been unpaid, with about a quarter of the federal government closed for two weeks.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats had told Trump during the meeting to end the shutdown. “He resisted,” Schumer said. “In fact, he said he’d keep the government closed for a very long period of time, months or even years.”

Trump confirmed that comment but painted a more positive picture of the meeting, the first since a new era of divided government began when Democrats took control of the House of Representatives on Thursday.

“We had a very, very productive meeting, and we’ve come a long way,” Trump said.

But raising the stakes in his tussle with the newly emboldened Democrats, Trump threatened extraordinary measures to build the wall, which he says is needed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs into the United States.

NATIONAL EMERGENCY?

Asked by a reporter whether he had considered declaring a national emergency to build the wall, Trump said: “Yes, I have … I may do it … we can call a national emergency and build it very quickly.”

He said he could declare a national emergency “because of the security of our country, absolutely.”

The U.S. Constitution assigns Congress the power over funding the federal government so Trump likely would face legal challenges if he tried to bypass Congress on financing the wall. Building a wall – and having Mexico pay for it – was one of Trump’s main promises when he ran for president in 2016.

Trump’s wall project is estimated to cost about $23 billion.

Democrats have called the wall immoral, ineffective and medieval.

Nancy Pelosi, the newly elected Democratic speaker of the House, said Friday’s meeting with Trump was “sometimes contentious” but that they agreed to continue talking.

“But we recognize on the Democratic side that we really cannot resolve this until we open up government and we made that very clear to the president,” she said.

Credit rating agency Moody’s says the shutdown will cause minimal U.S. economic and credit market disruption but there could be a more severe impact on financial markets and the broad economy if the closure is protracted.

A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll last week showed that 50 percent of the public blame Trump for the shutdown and 7 percent blame Republican lawmakers, while 32 percent blame Democrats.

In a Dec. 11 meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, Trump said he would be “proud” to shut the government over the security issue and would not blame Democrats. He has since said they are responsible.

Administration officials and congressional staffers are set to continue meeting over the weekend to try to end the impasse.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters that the leaders and Trump had decided to designate staff to work over the weekend. He said Trump had named Vice President Mike Pence, senior aide Jared Kushner and Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen.

The partial shutdown is straining the country’s immigration system, worsening backlogs in courts and complicating hiring for employers.

Federal agencies such as the Justice Department, Commerce Department and departments of Agriculture, Labor, Interior and Treasury have been hit by the shutdown.

House Ways and Means Committee chair Richard Neal, a Democrat, asked the Internal Revenue Service in a letter on Friday to explain the possible effects of the shutdown on the upcoming tax filing season for millions of Americans.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Susan Cornwell, Tim Ahmann and Lisa Lambert; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Bill Trott and Rosalba O’Brien)