WASHINGTON — A White House meeting between President Donald Trump and top congressional leaders produced no tangible progress Wednesday as the federal government remained partially shut down for a 12th day.
Emerging from a briefing in the Situation Room, House Minority Leader-designate Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told reporters outside the White House that Trump had invited leaders back to continue negotiations on Friday.
"We never did get through the complete briefing,” McCarthy said, which was led by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who beamed in via video link from California. “I was a little disappointed with some on the other side. Once the secretary started, Senator Schumer interrupted her and they really didn’t want to hear it.”
Just seconds after Nielsen began her presentation, according to two sources familiar with the meeting, House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif cut in. Democrats redirected the conversation to how they planned to open the government once they take control of the House tomorrow.
"Well, I will tell you that it became clear at the start that the government shutdown was a much bigger issue than Secretary Nielsen's view of the border," said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., adding that "she has lost her credibility with most of us."
McCarthy expressed hope that congressional leaders could reach an agreement “rather quickly” and that the shutdown “doesn’t have to last much longer at all.”
His Senate GOP counterpart was less optimistic. “I don’t think any particular progress was made today,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after arriving back to the Capitol. "But we talked about all aspects of it, and it was a civil discussion and we’re hopeful that somehow in the coming days and weeks we’ll be able to reach an agreement."
Pelosi, said that House Democrats still plan to bring legislation to the floor Thursday, after they take the majority, that would open up the government.
“We asked the president to support the bills that we support that will open up the government,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “I said, ‘Mr. President, why should you continue your shutdown over the eight Cabinet departments?’ He could not give a good answer.”
On Monday, House Democrats filed a short-term funding bill known as a continuing resolution that would fund the Department of Homeland Security until Feb. 8. Separately, they plan to vote on six remaining government spending bills that passes new funding for those other agencies for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
McConnell said Wednesday after the White House meeting that the Senate would not be taking up the bill that Pelosi and House Democrats plan to pass Thursday.
"It's exactly the kind of proposal you'd expect if the incoming House Democrats were choosing to stage a political side-show rather than doing the hard work of helping to govern the country," he said of the House measure. "In other words, a total non-starter."
White House and Hill sources described the session as "frank" and "civil" — as well as "circular" and "contentious at times."
At one point, as Democrats pressed the president on why he wouldn’t agree to a temporary funding fix to allow 30 days for negotiation on border security, a senior White House official said Vice President Mike Pence told Democrats: “You’re not negotiating now. When are we going to start negotiating?”
The Situation Room meeting ended after the President suggested they all meet again Friday after leadership elections.
Some Democrats were noncommittal. "We haven’t received an invitation," House Majority Leader-designate Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said, adding that "we will have to make that decision at that time."
Asked by reporters how it went, he responded simply — and sarcastically: “great fun!”
Trump himself struck a conciliatory note after the meeting, tweeting that he was "ready and willing to work with Democrats."
It marked a departure from his tone ahead of the briefing, when he stressed his desire for his full funding request for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border during a Cabinet meeting that lasted nearly two hours. At that point, the president declined to specify how long the shutdown might last, saying only that the stoppage would continue “as long as it takes.”
"Could be a long time, or it could be quickly. Could be a long time. It’s too important a subject to walk away from," he said.
"I think the people of this country think I'm right," he added. "Again, I could have done nothing. I could have had a lot easier presidency by doing nothing. But I'm here, I want to do it right."
He also blamed Democrats for the shutdown that began just before Christmas, on Dec. 22, even though he pre-emptively took credit for it last month.
“We are in a shutdown because Democrats refuse to fund border security,” he said Wednesday, accusing Democrats of playing politics because they have an eye “on 2020.”
The lawmakers who attended the White House meeting Wednesday included Pelosi, Hoyer, McCarthy, and House Minority Whip-designate Steve Scalise, R-La. Those attending from the Senate include Schumer, McConnell, Senate Majority Whip-designate John Thune, R-S.D., and Durbin.
Walking into Pelosi's office Wednesday, Schumer had expressed concern about the president's intentions for the White House meeting.
“I hope he’s serious, but I’m worried that it’s another one of his events for show,” he said.
Asked if the shutdown will end anytime soon, Schumer said: “It’s up to President Trump. We hope so."
Congress was unable to agree on a government funding package last month because of Trump’s wall funding request, which Republicans supported and Democrats rejected.