Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer leave a White House meeting with Donald Trump, January 2, 2019 (Sarah Silbiger/New York Times)
In a rambling performance on Wednesday, Donald Trump maintained his shutdown of the Federal Government to demand billions of dollars for his Wall with Mexico.
The Government closed on December 21, shutting parts of nine departments and leaving almost 800,000 employees on furlough or working without pay, after Trump blocked a Senate measure for continued funding that did not include $5.7 billion for The Wall.
Trump, who told Democrat legislators on December 11 that he be “proud” to shut down the Government, maintained a firm if confusing line over the closure. But on Tuesday, he offered a brief message pointing to compromise, tweeting to incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, “Let’s make a deal?” and scheduling a briefing with Republicans and Democrats from both the House and Senate.
However, before meeting the legislators, he dispelled any idea of a shift in a rambling 95-minute appearance at a Cabinet meeting, in which he also insulted former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, justified withdrawal of troops from Syria by calling it a country of “sand and death”, and supported the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.
Trump was vague on the exact amount that he wants as the initial funding of the $25 billion Wall. At one point, he appeared to undercut the White House’s compromise of $2.5 billion for border security — with an unspecified amount for the Wall — offered to Democrat Congressional leaders last week.
Then in the meeting in the White House Situation Room, he firmly rebuffed the Democrats, who agreed with Senate Republicans on $1.3 billion for border security in the continuing resolution dismissed by Trump before the shutdown.
When Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer proposed reopening the government while differences over the border and immigration are worked out, Trump responded, “I would look foolish if I did that,” according to “three officials familiar with the meeting”.
Trump said The Wall was the reason why he was elected, as Democrats stood firm on the $1.3 billion border security proposal.
Pelosi said after the meeting: “We are asking the President to open up government. Why would he not do it?”
Schumer added, “He could not give a good answer.” Pelosi then summarized, “We can go through the back and forth. No. How many more times can we say no? Nothing for the wall.”
Democrats take control of the House of Representatives on Thursday and have said they will immediately pass the continuing resolution. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, supportng the Trump shutdown, said he had no intention of tabling the resolution for a vote if Trump will not sign it.
“We’re hopeful that, somehow, in the coming days and weeks, we’ll be able to reach an agreement,” McConnell said vaguely.
That line echoed Trump’s statement to reporters, “Could be a long time, or it could be quickly. It’s too important a subject to walk away from.”
The shutdown is now the 4th-longest in US history. The longest closure was 21 days in December 1995-January 1996, as a Republican-controlled Congress tried to stymie Democrat President Bill Clinton.
Trump said in evening tweets, “I remain ready and willing to work with Democrats”, but closed with his insistence on his 30-foot-high concrete barrier:
Sadly, there can be no REAL Border Security without the Wall!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2019
Trashing Mattis, Backing the Soviet Union
In his display for reporters, Trump put out a series of provocative, ill-informed statements as payback against former officials, such as Defense Secretary Mattis, and to justify impulsive actions such as withdrawal of US forces from Syria and an attempt — checked by the Pentagon — to remove thousands of troops from Afghanistan.
Mattis resigned the day after Trump’s December 19 announcement of the Syria withdrawal. Trump initially had warm words for the former general, but turned against him when news coverage said Mattis’ resignation letter included implicit criticism of Trump’s approach to both allies and adversaries. He ordered Mattis, who had intended to depart on February 28, to quit his office on December 31.
Trump then derided Mattis on Twitter as ineffective and continued the assault on Wednesday.
Trump says he "essentially" fired Jim Mattis. He did not. Mattis resigned due to policy differences. Trump also says of Mattis: What's he done for me? How has he done in Afghanistan? Not too good. Not too good. I'm not happy with what he's done in Afghanistan." Via Fox. pic.twitter.com/TG5N34E7gO
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) January 2, 2019
Spending several minutes on Afghanistan, where the Taliban controls almost half the country and there is no sign of movement towards a political resolution, Trump embraced the Soviet invasion in 1979 — an invasion that was challenged by the Reagan Administration’s support of local groups including religious mojahedin until Mikhail Gorbachev withdrew the Soviet forces.
Trump: "Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan. Russia."
Trump then goes on to endorse the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Via Fox. pic.twitter.com/oE0fuDLXyz
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) January 2, 2019
Returning to the present, he suggested the US could withdraw its military personnel and let the Taliban fight the Islamic State for the future of Afghanistan.
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) January 3, 2019