WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Thursday that he's leaving the solution to the shutdown in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
"If they come to a reasonable agreement I would support it," the president said, adding that he still had "other alternatives."
Trump spoke from the White House shortly after the Senate failed to pass two bills, one from Republicans and the other from Democrats, that would have reopened the government. McConnell and Schumer met behind closed doors on Thursday afternoon regarding the possibility of a three-week continuing resolution — a stopgap funding measure — that would give lawmakers time to hash out a compromise on border security, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said on the Senate floor.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, in a statement about the meeting, said that "the 3 week CR would only work if there is a large down payment on the wall."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., indicated that was a non-starter.
A down payment for Trump's wall "is not a reasonable agreement between the senators," she told reporters shortly after the president's remarks.
Asked if she knew what he was talking about, or what size down payment the White House wanted, Pelosi said, "I don't know if he knows what he is talking about. Do you?"
Though both Senate bills were expected to fail on Thursday, there was a feeling among lawmakers that the efforts represented an opening for compromise. It marked the first votes the Senate has taken to reopen the government since the shutdown began on Dec. 22.
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The Democratic measure, which would have reopened federal agencies until Feb. 8 but provided no funding for a border wall, was defeated in a 52-44 vote on Thursday. The Republican spending measure, which was proposed by Trump and included $5.7 billion for his border wall in exchange for temporary protections for so-called Dreamers brought illegally to the country as children, also fell short of the 60-vote threshold required for passage, 50-47.
Trump on Thursday criticized Democrats for declining to cross the aisle to vote for his proposal — just one senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, voted "yes" — while thanking Republicans for "holding," referring to the number of GOP lawmakers who backed it.
"We knew they both were not going to go anywhere and now Mitch McConnell is negotiating with Chuck Schumer and we'll see what happens,” Trump told reporters. “But we need 60 votes because of the 60-vote rule.”
During his remarks, the president said he has not spoken with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He also did not back down from his insistence that any measure to reopen the government must include funding for a wall.
"Well, I wouldn’t be happy with it,” Trump said of a bill that didn’t fund a wall. "You can’t have border security without a wall."
Six Republican senators — Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Mitt Romney of Utah — joined Democrats in favor of their proposal to break the 34-day shutdown stalemate.
Later Thursday, a bipartisan group of 11 senators filed a three-week continuing resolution for Senate consideration after pledging their commitment on the Senate floor to compromise on a border security solution if the government is reopened.
Senator Ben Cardin, D-Md., along with others in the group, officially introduced the resolution, which would fund parts of the government at existing spending levels.
The introduction of this amendment — which would be tacked onto an existing bill already on the Senate floor— does not indicate a deal is imminent, lawmakers cautioned. Rather, senators have done this to show their commitment to getting furloughed workers paid and find a solution on border security in the interim.
“What we have put on the table is our reputation as legislators that given three weeks we'll come up with an accessible conclusion on border security issues. That's putting the responsibility on the legislative branch of government. We're willing to take that responsibility,” Cardin said.
Asked whether Democrats would support a down payment on funding a physical barrier, Cardin and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said they would not discuss negotiations while they're ongoing. But Cardin said the president should view this proposal as senators readying "to deliver" a compromise.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said today's failed votes showed exactly what cannot pass the Senate, but that she feels more positive than before about finding a solution because McConnell and Schumer are talking.
Though there's movement in the Senate about potentially reopening the government, senators acknowledged that jump-starting negotiations now will still result in furloughed workers losing another paycheck on Friday.
"While today didn't open the government, I think the message that we've heard loud and clear from Americans is: enough already. We respect that. We're getting to work here," Murkowski said.
Meanwhile, House Democrats are expected to unveil a funding counter-offer to Trump and congressional Republicans on Friday that would "meet or exceed" $5.7 billion for border security, but provide no money for a physical wall, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told reporters.
Thompson told reporters that the Democrats' proposal will offer "no new structures. The only thing we’re talking about is existing structures. Some of them need repairing."
The money could be used for "technology, manpower, fortifying ports of entry along with the judges and other things," he added.