WASHINGTON — A leading Senate Republican close to President Donald Trump says Trump isn’t giving in on his demands for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the issue that’s caused the partial government shutdown that’s now in its fourth week.
Sen. Lindsey Graham says he encouraged Trump during a telephone conversation Sunday to reopen government for a period of weeks to try to negotiate a deal with Democrats that would break the impasse.
But the South Carolina Republican said Trump wants a deal first.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also has insisted that Trump end the shutdown first before any negotiating takes place.
“I tried to see if we could open up the government for a limited period of time to negotiate a deal,” Graham said. “The president says ‘Let’s make a deal, then open up the government.’ Nancy Pelosi says even if you opened up the government I wouldn’t fund a wall.”
“What is he supposed to do? Just give in. He’s not going to give in,” Graham said.
The assessment from Graham, who has become close to Trump, suggested the shutdown could last for weeks longer, if not months, inflicting additional financial pain on the 800,000 federal workers who have been idled or required to work without pay for the duration.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., called Graham’s idea for a brief reopening of the government a “great place to start.”
“Stop harming our country and our economy and let’s make our best efforts because we all agree we need to invest more in border security,” Coons said.
Graham said he thinks Trump is willing to accept the level of wall funding he is seeking, along with some immigration measures Democrats might find acceptable, such as helping immigrants who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children.
But Trump has said that while he is interested in pursuing a broader overhaul of the immigration system, he first wants to hear what the Supreme Court has to say about the group of immigrants known as “Dreamers.”
Pelosi also has shown no interest in accepting a wall — she has called it an “immorality” — in exchange for the suggested immigration fixes.
And Trump appeared to shoot down Graham’s suggestion of a “wall plus” deal, saying Sunday on Twitter that even Democrats don’t want to make “Dreamers” part of the shutdown talks.
“The damage done to our Country from a badly broken Border – Drugs, Crime and so much that is bad – is far greater than a Shutdown, which the Dems can easily fix as soon as they come back to Washington!” Trump said in a separate tweet.
Graham has been among the most outspoken Republicans pushing Trump to use his authority to declare a national emergency to circumvent Congress and build the wall by tapping unspent money sitting in various government accounts, including for military construction and disaster relief.
Democrats oppose such a declaration but may be powerless to stop it. Many Republicans are wary, too, fearing its use by a future Democratic president.
“We don’t want it to come down to a national emergency declaration,” said House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. “Clearly the president’s got authority under the law, but he’s said he doesn’t want it to come to that. He wants Congress to solve this problem. Congress needs to solve this problem.”
Trump has said he prefers giving Congress more time to work out a deal before pulling the trigger on such a declaration.
But Graham said Sunday that time is running out.
“It’s the last option, not the first option, but we’re pretty close to that being the only option,” Graham said of an emergency declaration.
Graham and Coons spoke on “Fox News Sunday.”