VOA News/Ken Bredemeier & Chris Hannas
WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump pushed again Wednesday for taxpayer funding of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, even as he claimed without evidence that Mexico is already paying for it through a new trade deal and that much of the barrier has been built.
Trump is meeting with congressional leaders about his demand for wall funding in a dispute that has closed a quarter of U.S. government operations for 12 days.
The U.S. leader invited top Republicans and Democrats to the White House for what it called a «border security briefing,» talks occurring the day before opposition Democrats take control of the House of Representatives for the second two years of Trump’s presidency.
Trump contended on Twitter, «Mexico is paying for the Wall through the new USMCA Trade Deal,» even though Congress has yet to ratify it and the pact has not taken effect.
He also said, «Much of the Wall has already been fully renovated or built,» although Congress has never approved wall funding, even as repairs have been made to existing fencing.
The shutdown has forced closure of most operations at several government agencies, with 800,000 government workers either told to stay home or continue to work without pay until the shutdown stalemate is resolved.
Tourists in Washington are seeing new effects of the impasse Wednesday as the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo closed until a deal is reached. The National Gallery of Art will be closed starting Thursday.
The White House meeting is Trump’s first with key Democratic lawmakers since mid-December when he told them he would be «proud» to shut down the government in a fight over border wall funding. Since then, the White House and opposition lawmakers have not met, and Trump has blamed Democrats for the standoff.
As Democrats assume control of the House on Thursday, Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi says she plans votes on legislation that would fund all of the shuttered agencies through the end of September, with the exception of only extending funding at the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees border security, through Feb. 8.
But the proposed legislation does not include the $5 billion in funding for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border that Trump is demanding in any spending measure he signs. Democrats have previously offered $1.3 billion in funding for other border security measures instead.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement late Tuesday that the Democratic plan is a «non-starter» and «fails to secure the border and puts the needs of other countries above the needs of our own citizens.»
Pelosi v. Trump
Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer have rejected Trump’s wall plan as «expensive and ineffective» and say Trump has yet to put forth a plan that has a chance to pass both the House and Senate.
Ahead of the White House meeting, Trump and Pelosi traded comments Tuesday on Twitter.
«Border Security and the Wall ‘thing’ and Shutdown is not where Nancy Pelosi wanted to start her tenure as Speaker! Let’s make a deal?» Trump said.
Pelosi responded that Trump «has given Democrats a great opportunity to show how we will govern responsibly & quickly to pass our plan to end the irresponsible #TrumpShutdown.»
Before the shutdown went into effect, the Senate passed a stopgap funding bill that would have funded the now-closed government operations through Feb. 8 without the wall funding. The House passed its own bill that included wall funding.
Pelosi said in a letter to colleagues Tuesday that lawmakers in the Senate should now support the new Democratic plan after their earlier approval of stopgap funding, and that if they reject it, then they would be «fully complicit in chaos and destruction» caused by the ongoing shutdown.