WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Friday he could keep parts of the government shut down for "months or even years" as he and Democratic leaders failed in a second closed-door meeting to resolve his demand for billions of dollars for a border wall with Mexico. They did agree to a new round of weekend talks between staff members and White House officials.
Trump met in the White House Situation Room with congressional leaders from both parties as the shutdown hit the two-week mark amid the impasse over his wall demands. Democrats emerged from the two-hour meeting, which both sides said was contentious at times, to report little if any progress.
Appearing in the Rose Garden, Trump spoke more positively, calling it a "very good meeting." He confirmed he "absolutely" made the comment about the possible length of the shutdown but said he hoped it wouldn't last that long.
He also said he could declare a national emergency and authorize more wall funding on his own but would first try a "negotiated process." Trump previously described the situation at the border as a "national emergency" before he dispatched active duty troops in what critics described as a pre-election stunt.
Asked if he was still proud to own the shutdown as he has previously declared, Trump said: "I don't call it a shutdown. I call it doing what you have to do for the benefit and the safety of our country."
As anxiety mounts over the length of the shutdown, Trump said the hundreds of thousands who are furloughed or working without pay would want him to "keep going" and fight for border security. He said, "These people in many cases are the biggest fan" of his actions.
Democrats, on the other hand, spoke of families unable to pay bills and called on Trump to reopen the government while negotiations continue on border security. Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, "It's very hard to see how progress will be made unless they open up the government."
Friday's meeting came after House Democrats muscled through legislation Thursday night to fund the government but not Trump's proposed wall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said those measures are non-starters on his side of the Capitol without the president's support.
As the impasse dragged on, however, some GOP senators up for re-election in 2020 voiced discomfort.
Cory Gardner of Colorado said Congress should pass bipartisan bills to fund government "while we continue to fight for more border security money." And Susan Collins of Maine said her "goal is to get government reopened as quickly as possible."
"Negotiations on border security should continue while a stopgap funding resolution is approved for the Department of Homeland Security," she said.
Trump designated Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and adviser Jared Kushner to work with a congressional delegation over the weekend. He was joined by Pence in the Rose Garden, as well as House Republican leaders Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise.
McConnell, who went back to the Capitol instead, said it was encouraging that the working group of White House officials and the congressional contingent would meet over the weekend "to see if they can reach an agreement and then punt it back to us for final sign off."
Senate Democratic leader Schumer said that if McConnell and Senate Republicans stay on the sidelines, "Trump can keep the government shut down for a long time."