U.S. President Donald Trump contended Tuesday that a new migrant caravan leaving Honduras justifies his demand for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border to keep them from surging into the United States.
"A big new Caravan is heading up to our Southern Border from Honduras," Trump said on Twitter. He urged people to tell House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, the top Democratic leaders who oppose his demand that U.S. taxpayers pay for a wall, "that a drone flying around will not stop them. Only a Wall will work. Only a Wall, or Steel Barrier, will keep our Country safe!"
He told Pelosi and Schumer to "Stop playing political games and end the Shutdown!" -- the record 25-day partial government closure spawned by the dispute over Trump's demand for more than $5 billion to build a border barrier. Democrats have offered $1.3 billion for improved border security, but none specifically for a wall.
About 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed or ordered to work without pay in the Trump stalemate with Democratic lawmakers, an impasse that has curtailed government services, such as airport security monitoring, and closed some museums and parks.
"Why is Nancy Pelosi getting paid when people who are working are not?" Trump tweeted.
The White House said that it invited Republican and Democratic lawmakers to lunch to discuss the shutdown, but only Republicans accepted. "It's time for the Democrats to come to the table and make a deal," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
Trump said, "Polls are now showing that people are beginning to understand the Humanitarian Crisis and Crime at the Border. Numbers are going up fast, over 50%. Democrats will soon be known as the Party of Crime. Ridiculous that they don't want Border Security!"
The Honduran caravan left the crime-ridden city of San Pedro Sula in the early hours Tuesday, with more migrants expected to join it later in the day. Thousands of other Hondurans and people from other Central American countries remain encamped in Tijuana, Mexico, just south of the U.S. border, blocked from entering the United States after walking thousands of kilometers as part of a caravan that started in October.
Although a majority of Americans blame the U.S. president and Republicans for the prolonged partial government shutdown, Trump on Monday said Democrats in Congress are squarely responsible. Trump last month, before the shutdown started, said he would be "proud" to "own" it in a fight over border security
"They will not approve the measures we need to keep American safe," Trump said of Democrats at a national convention of farmers in New Orleans.
"I will never ever back down" from efforts to keep America safe, Trump vowed in the speech to the 100th annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation. He accused Democrats of refusing to approve money for a wall because they want to use it as an issue for next year's presidential campaign when Trump faces re-election.
Six major polls indicate that half of or more Americans hold the president and his Republican Party responsible for the shutdown. And 63 percent of American voters support a Democratic proposal to reopen parts of the government that do not involve border security while negotiating funding for a border wall, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released Monday.
Earlier in the day, Trump told White House reporters he would not, at least for the moment, declare a national emergency to build the wall without congressional authorization.
"I'm not going to do that," Trump said as he left the White House for the New Orleans trip.
"We are open to resolution and negotiation," Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told VOA News on Monday, indicating that communication is under way between the executive branch and Democrats, but she provided no details.
Trump rejected a call by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of his staunchest congressional supporters, to reopen shuttered agencies for three weeks while he holds more talks with Democratic leaders about his plan for a wall along the 3,200-kilometer southern U.S. border.
Graham told the Fox News Sunday television program he would still support a presidential emergency declaration to build the border wall after giving talks another chance.
"I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug, see if we can get a deal. If we can't at the end of three weeks, all bets are off," Graham said.
"I'm not interested," Trump replied to a reporter's query on Monday about Graham's suggestion, contending that top Democrats in Congress could quickly end the stalemate.
The Democrat-led House of Representatives has passed several measures that would reopen the shuttered agencies while border security talks continue.
Another such bill is up for consideration Tuesday that would reopen the agencies through Feb. 1, and another that would open them through Feb. 28 is expected to go before the House on Thursday.
Pelosi on Monday used Twitter to blame Republicans for starting the shutdown, and called for Trump to allow the Senate to vote to end it, arguing furloughed federal workers, who have already missed one paycheck, "are facing a life or death situation" just so the president "can try to force taxpayers to fund a border wall he promised Mexico would pay for."
In a speech on the Senate floor Monday, Democratic Minority Leader Schumer called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on legislation already approved by the House of Representatives to end the shutdown.
"How much more suffering must the president cause before leader McConnell realizes it's time to move ahead without him? It seems clear to everybody but leader McConnell that Congress needs to move forward without the president," Schumer said. "It's time for leader McConnell to realize he has the power to break this impasse, passing the House legislation to reopen the government."