By Tessa Berenson
January 7, 2019

The White House is holding firm in its request for $5.7 billion for a border wall to end the shutdown, while also demanding billions of dollars more to address other priorities at the southern border, according to a proposal it gave Congressional Democrats Sunday.

In an hour-long meeting with reporters in his office Monday afternoon, Vice President Mike Pence said the proposal is “a result of the discussions that have taken place between the President and the Democratic leadership as well as the productive discussions that took place over the course of this weekend.”

Pence’s staff provided copies of the letter to the roughly 30 journalists in attendance. “You should see this document and this proposal as evidence that we’re listening, we’re incorporating the ideas of the Democrats,” he said. “We just need the Democrats to start negotiating.”

Democrats remain in lockstep that the government needs to reopen before they will pick up talks about Trump’s plans along the U.S.-Mexican border, while Pence reiterated Monday, “The President is not going to reopen the federal government with a promise that negotiations will begin thereafter.”

The Administration’s three-page document, signed by Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Russell Vought, requests $5.7 billion for “construction of a steel barrier for the Southwest border,” the key sticking point in the partial government shutdown as Trump refuses to budge on that figure and Democrats refuse to grant it.

It goes on to request $563 million for 75 additional immigration judges, $211 million to hire 750 additional Border Patrol agents, $571 million for 2,000 additional law enforcement personnel and $4.2 billion for 52,000 detention beds. Then, in what Pence referred to as “consensus items” that he says Democrats agree to, it asks for $800 million for humanitarian needs including medical care and $675 million for technology to detect weapons and drugs at the border.

“I hope you can see there’s more than a wall in this proposal,” Pence said.

Democrats, meanwhile, felt the weekend sessions kept hashing over differences without any appreciable movement from either side to a compromise. It wasn’t until Sunday’s session that some Republicans actually understood what the White House’s offer even was. Some doubts remain on the Hill that it will still be the White House position tomorrow, given Trump’s changing stances in the past.

Pence hosted the off-camera briefing with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, senior adviser Jared Kushner (who never spoke), and Vought. “There’s a real sense of urgency,” Nielsen said of the situation at the border. “The crisis is getting worse. So the issue is the status quo funding, the status quo laws, are not able to address the crisis at the border.” Vought said Trump has directed him to “make this shutdown as painless as possible consistent with the law,” and said that OMB has ensured that tax refunds will be processed and trash collection will resume again in National Parks this weekend, among other measures.

But Pence, a former member of the House, was the main messenger for the Administration Monday ahead of Trump’s prime-time address to the nation scheduled for Tuesday night. Pence says the White House has extended an invitation for congressional leadership to come respond to this latest proposal, and said that he will be on the Hill briefing House members ahead of the president’s address tomorrow night.

Pence said Trump has “made no decision” on whether to try to use emergency funding to get money for the wall without congressional approval. For now, talks with Congress remain at a stalemate.

“We think it was a productive session on both days,” Pence said about the weekend discussions, before adding: “That does not mean to imply that we made progress in negotiations, but I think we gained a better understanding of the issues and the crisis on our southern border, and a better understanding of the priorities on both sides of the aisle to address that crisis.”

Democrats, who agreed that there has been no significant progress, said the additional funding requests just added more complexity to the fight, giving them yet another reason to argue that President Trump should sign the six appropriations bills that have bipartisan agreement which they passed through Congress last week.

“They are moving the goalposts once again,” said one source familiar with Sunday’s meeting. “It’s clear that they have an enormous wish list and that means a long and contentious discussion. There’s no reason to keep the government shut down while that happens.”

With Alana Abramson and Philip Elliott in Washington

Write to Tessa Berenson at [email protected].

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