WASHINGTON – The partial government shutdown over funding for a border wall reached a milestone Sunday, now tying for the third longest on record without any end in sight because of bitter negotiations.
As President Donald Trump insisted that the border wall dispute was a "very important battle," his aides indicated that he wouldn't cave on his demands.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Sunday that Trump "absolutely" stands by his comments that he is willing to continue the shutdown for months, or even years, to get the money he wants to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Sanders said the wall is needed to address the "national crisis" at the southern border.
Democrats insist a wall is an ineffective use of resources. They are pushing for a more varied approach to border security, which includes improved technology to monitor the border with tools such as drones and tunnel detection.
White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney – who in 2015 said a border barrier as "the end of an immigration discussion" was an "absurd and almost childish" solution to U.S. immigration issues – said Sunday that the wall would only be one component of the $5.6 billion Trump wants for border security.
"We recognize that things like technology are important," Mulvaney said on CNN's "State of the Union." "But certainly a barrier is important."
The definition of that barrier has evolved over time. On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump insisted it would be a "big, beautiful" wall made of concrete – and that Mexico would pay for it. Mulvaney said Sunday on "Meet the Press" that the president is now willing to compromise by backing off the demand for a concrete wall to "replace it with a steel fence."
"If that is not evidence of the president's desire to try to resolve this, I don't know what is," Mulvaney said.
Democrats say they are willing to discuss what is needed to address to border security and immigration, but only after the shutdown ends.
"What we ought to do is open up the government first," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Sunday on "Meet the Press."
"There's no requirement that this government be shut down while we deliberate the future of any barrier, whether it's a fence or a wall," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Senior congressional aides and top White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, met again Sunday in the nation's capital after hours of talks the previous day did not lead to a compromise. But no deal was made, and no further meetings for the group are scheduled, according to a Democratic official familiar with the meeting.
On Saturday, Democrats asked the White House for a budget justification for the requested funds, which were not included in the administration’s 2019 budget. That justification was not completed Sunday, the official said.
Pence's office described Saturday's meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next door to the White House, as "productive" with Democratic sources saying those in the room urged Trump to reopen the government and back off his request for more than $5 billion to construct a wall along the southern U.S. border.
Mulvaney said he thought the meeting was "disappointing" and that Democrats were not looking for a solution "because they think that they are winning this battle politically."
The president admitted on Twitter after the Saturday meeting that "not much headway" was made during the talks but again pressed for border security, a sign neither side is wavering in the bickering that has left thousands of federal employees working with no pay.