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President Donald Trump on Wednesday hosted his first Cabinet meeting of the new year, where he offered a bleak preview of what top lawmakers are expected to encounter later in the day, when they visit the White House for what was being billed as a briefing on border security.
Trump began the meeting by saying he could "get a lot done" with Democrats, but quickly shifted into more familiar talking points about the proposed wall he has long promised his supporters that he would build along the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats have so far refused to vote for any funding for Trump's wall, while the president has repeatedly demanded $5 billion.
"The United States needs a physical barrier," Trump said.
Over the course of more than an hour, Trump used the meeting to warn of a massive flow of drugs and crime entering the United States over the southern border. He also repeated several incorrect and false statistics about the number of people living in the United States illegally, and the rate at which those people commit crimes.
Trump spoke as a partial government shutdown entered its 12th day, with no end in sight. The shutdown was prompted by the president's refusal to sign spending bills for half a dozen federal agencies unless Congress provided an additional $5 billion for a border wall.
"We are in a shutdown because Democrats refuse to fund border security," Trump said Wednesday, before accusing Democrats of playing politics with border security with an eye "on 2020" presidential elections. Trump also repeated his false claim that former President Barack Obama built a wall around his home in Washington.
Top congressional leaders in both parties are scheduled to visit the White House at 3 p.m. ET Wednesday for a briefing that Trump said will be conducted by Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen as well as other top DHS officials working on border issues.
Trump's remarks during the more than extensive Cabinet meeting are likely to do little to resolve the stalemate between the White House and congressional Democrats that is currently holding up government funding. On the contrary, Trump and his Cabinet appeared to dig in deeper by repeating the same talking points the White House and the president have been using for weeks.
The president invited several Cabinet members to speak, including Nielsen, who addressed the meeting via videoconference from San Diego, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Vice President Mike Pence, all of whom took turns praising Trump for taking a hard line on the border wall.
Key departures from Trump's Cabinet in recent months meant that several top positions were currently being filled by officials in an acting capacity, including acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker and, more recently, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. Both men attended Wednesday's meeting.
Wednesday was Shanahan's second official day on the job, having succeeded former Defense Secretary James Mattis on the first of the year. Mattis resigned over what he said were policy disagreements with the president.
Also attending Wednesday's Cabinet meeting were acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who takes over from outgoing chief John Kelly, acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Heather Nauert, and acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
The shutdown affects some 800,000 federal workers nationwide, who are either being forced to stay home on furlough or forced to keep working without pay.