WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump welcomed the prospect of a government shutdown if Congress does not support his immigration reform plans, saying such a step would be "worth it for our country."
His comments came during an event Tuesday with members of the law enforcement community focused on the gang Mara Salvatrucha, commonly known as MS-13.
WATCH: Video report by Katherine Gypson
Trump has repeatedly highlighted crimes committed by immigrants when stressing the need for immigration reforms, which he says should include boosting border security, ending family-based immigration and halting the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program in favor of a merit-based system.
"If we don’t change the legislation, if we don’t rid of these loopholes where killers are allowed to come into our country and continue to kill — gang members. And we’re just talking about MS-13. There are many gang members that we don’t even mention. If we don’t change it, let’s have a shutdown. We’ll do a shutdown," Trump said.
WATCH: US immigration negotiations
The president's call for a government shutdown comes as the current short-term funding plan for the government is set to expire at midnight Thursday. There was a three-day partial government shutdown in mid-January, the country's first since 2013, that also revolved around contentious immigration issues.
On Capitol Hill
A number of Democrats criticized Trump's comments Tuesday.
"No one should be rooting for a shutdown, especially not the President of the United States," Sen. Mark Warner said.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said Trump advocating for a shutdown is "irresponsible and reckless."
"The American people expect us to do our jobs — not threaten a shutdown that would hurt them, their families, and our economy," he said.
"The president is not advocating for the shutdown, that's the fault of the Democrats not doing their job," White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during a press briefing. "The president wants a long-term deal, and he wants a deal on immigration. And we hope that Democrats will come to the table and get those things done."
White House lobbies
In a statement that followed, the White House said it would support a stopgap funding bill that would keep the government open through March 23 and give lawmakers more time to hammer out an immigration agreement.
Trump in September ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protected from deportation about 700,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children but under DACA have been allowed to work and study in the United States. He gave Congress until March 5 to come up with a permanent solution for those immigrants, and has also said he supports a path to citizenship for as many as 1.8 million people eligible for DACA even if they never enrolled in the program.
Sen. Dick Durbin said Tuesday that Trump "has rejected three separate offers to fund his broadly unpopular" border wall at the U.S.-Mexico border in exchange for broadly popular DACA legislation.
On Capitol Hill, White House chief of staff John Kelly ended discussion of a temporary fix for DACA.
"There are 690,000 official DACA registrants, and the president sent over what amounts to be two-and-a-half times that number, to 1.8 million," Kelly told reporters. "The difference between 690 and 1.8 million were the people that some would say were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses."
Lawmakers had been reported to be close to an agreement on a long-term budget deal that would increase spending by $300 billion over the next two years, with about half for national defense programs and an equal amount for an array of domestic programs. But the agreement does not include either an immigration plan or a solution for DACA recipients.
After meeting with his Republican caucus Tuesday, Sen. Mitch McConnell reiterated his commitment to a full floor debate but did not say whether Trump’s immigration blueprint would serve as a starting point, or whether the chamber would consider a more limited bipartisan proposal addressing DACA and border security.
"There’s no secret plan here to try to push this in any direction. The Senate’s going to work its will," the majority leader said.
But on the House side, Speaker Paul Ryan said his chamber would only consider a bill that the president supports.
"So, we put it this way — President Trump made a very serious and sincere offer of goodwill with the reforms that he sent to the Hill. That is what we should be working off of, those are the bipartisan negotiations that the majority leader is conducting on our behalf. So, we’re not going to bring immigration legislation through that the president doesn’t support," he said.
Later Tuesday, Trump planned to sign an order creating the National Vetting Center to check for security concerns about immigrants and visitors entering the United States.
VOA's Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.