President Donald Trump said Wednesday that Republicans "are totally unified" behind his border wall fight — suggesting a partial government shutdown could drag on for a while.
The president met with the Senate GOP caucus on the 19th day of the closure as a few senators have started to break with their party in Trump's immigration battle. Trump and senators emerged preaching consensus, which does not bode well for the shutdown ending anytime soon as Democrats hold firm on their pledge not to fund the proposed barrier.
"We're all behind the president. We think this border security issue is extremely important to the country," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters after the meeting.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., suggested the shutdown will "drag on," according to Bloomberg. Trump has pushed for more than $5 billion to build the wall, and Democrats have refused to approve the money.
No deal to reopen nine federal departments appeared to take shape as 800,000 federal workers face missing paychecks starting Friday. As the stalemate continues, Trump is set to meet with bipartisan congressional leaders including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
The Democratic-held House has passed legislation to fund the government without money for the proposed wall. McConnell has said the Republican-controlled Senate will not take up the measures because Trump opposes them.
One House-passed proposal would fund all remaining departments other than Homeland Security through Sept. 30. A separate bill would reopen DHS through Feb. 8, giving lawmakers time to reach an agreement on border security while allowing workers at other departments to get paid.
Republicans have started to support funding the agencies except Homeland Security, leading to questions about whether pressure on McConnell and Trump will grow. Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have all called to fund the eight departments other than DHS.
Murkowski told reporters that she urged Trump to take her position on government funding during the Senate GOP meeting. Trump responded by saying senators should stay unified, Murkowski said.
After the meeting, the president said, "There was no discussion about anything other than solidarity."
"The Republicans are totally unified," he said, adding "there was no reason for me even to be there."
Trump has said the shutdown could last for "months or even years" if he does not secure money for the wall. Last month, the president said he would "take the mantle" for the government closure.
As the shutdown dragged on Wednesday, Democrats aimed to highlight the federal workers who could soon miss paychecks because of the spat. Standing with furloughed federal workers at the Capitol, Pelosi said the president "has chosen a wall over workers."
Their message contrasted with rhetoric from Trump, who described the U.S.-Mexico border as a "humanitarian crisis" and used grisly tales to call for an immigration crackdown during a televised Oval Office address Tuesday night.
Trump has downplayed the shutdown's effect on government employees. At the White House on Wednesday, he said the workers "are terrific patriots and a lot of them agree with what I'm doing."
"So many of those people are saying, 'It's so hard for me, it's very hard for my family, but Mr. President, you're doing the right thing,'" Trump claimed.
A top union representative who spoke at the event with Pelosi and Schumer on Wednesday disagreed. U.S. employees are "absolutely, completely and without reservation opposed to this government shutdown lockout," said J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
"We oppose being held hostage. We oppose being collateral damage. We oppose the use of extortion instead of reasoned debate," said Cox, who leads the largest union representing federal workers.
Trump teased the possibility of declaring a national emergency at the border to build the wall — which he ultimately did not do during his remarks Tuesday. The president said Wednesday that the "threshold" for him taking that step is failure to reach a border security deal with lawmakers.