WASHINGTON - The White House challenged opposition Democrats on Sunday to prove they want tough security on the southern border with Mexico now that the longest-ever partial government shutdown has ended and the clock is ticking on a three-week window for negotiations.
Mick Mulvaney, President Donald Trump's acting White House chief of staff, told Fox News Sunday, "This is a chance for Democrats to see if they believe in border security" to thwart illegal immigration and stop the flow of illicit drugs. But Mulvaney said the U.S. leader would secure the border "with or without Congress," including by declaring a national emergency, if he has to.
Mulvaney said the White House is "seeing Democrats starting to agree with the president" on the need for a wall along nearly 400 kilometers of the 3,200-kilometer U.S.-Mexico border, a stretch where Trump has demanded $5.7 billion in taxpayer funding for some type of barrier.
The dispute shuttered about a quarter of U.S. government operations for 35 days, before Trump on Friday agreed with a Democratic demand to reopen the government until Feb. 15, without any wall funding, while the two sides negotiate over border security funding.
Trump's chief congressional antagonists, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, have staunchly refused his demand for wall construction money. But Mulvaney said the negotiation period will give Democrats a chance to answer the question, "Are you telling people the truth" about favoring border security, "or doing something that's politically expedient?"
Democrats so far have suggested they are willing to give Trump the full $5.7 billion he wants for improved security, such as for tightened controls at ports of entry, more border agents and more use of technology to control the border, but none for a wall. The wall was a key campaign pledge of Trump's during his successful 2016 run for the White House, when he repeatedly said Mexico would pay for it, a claim Mexico City has often rejected.
Mulvaney said Trump wants "a wall where we need it the most."
Trump, in agreeing to the end of the government closures, threatened a new government shutdown in mid-February if he cannot reach a border security deal with Congress or to declare the national emergency and build the wall with unspent funds it has found throughout the government and without congressional authorization. But such a declaration would invite an immediate legal challenge, leaving wall construction in doubt.
Mulvaney said, "No one wants [another] government shutdown. It's not a desired outcome. It's still better to get [the barrier funding] through legislation."
But he said that Trump would secure the border, "and he'll do it either with or without Congress."
On the same Fox News show, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the sole Democrat who voted last week for Trump's wall proposal as part of a legislative effort to reopen the government, said Democrats would "look at a wholistic approach" to determine border security needs. "We'll let the experts tell us what's needed, help us find the right path."
Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said, "Compromise is the essence of what we do. This has gotten way too political."
Blunt said, "We would all prefer to see this negotiated," rather than Trump declaring a national emergency to provide funding for a wall. "I think it's a bad precedent. I hope he doesn't go there."
After Trump and Congress agreed on the three-week hiatus to end the shutdown, some government operations started to open again Saturday, with museums and parks reopening and other government services resuming in the coming days. Shuttered agencies made plans to pay 800,000 federal workers who were furloughed or forced to work without pay for the month they went without the two paychecks they normally would have received.
But federal contract workers may not ever recoup the money for the time they were out of work unless Congress enacts legislation to pay them.
The shutdown, the longer it went on, was having a cascading effect on the U.S. economy, with Standard & Poor's Global Ratings saying the government closures cost the economy about $6 billion, $300 million more than the wall funding Trump wanted.
On Sunday, Trump continued to assail the effects of illegal immigration, citing disputed statistics.
"We are not even into February and the cost of illegal immigration so far this year is $18,959,495,168," Trump said on Twitter. "Cost Friday was $603,331,392. There are at least 25,772,342 illegal aliens, not the 11,000,000 that have been reported for years, in our Country. So ridiculous!"
We are not even into February and the cost of illegal immigration so far this year is $18,959,495,168. Cost Friday was $603,331,392. There are at least 25,772,342 illegal aliens, not the 11,000,000 that have been reported for years, in our Country. So ridiculous! DHS— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 27, 2019