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Lawmakers Meet Trump At White House For Talks Amid Government Shutdown

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We are 12 days into a partial government shutdown, and judging by a meeting at the White House today, there's no end in sight. President Trump sat down with congressional leaders from both parties. They did not come away with a deal. Trump still demanded money for a border wall. Democrats still said they won't give it to him. As of tomorrow, Democrats will have more leverage when they take control of the House of Representatives.

NPR congressional correspondent Scott Detrow is following all this. And, Scott, sounds like not so much progress to report.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Yeah, not really. Congressional leaders were invited for a briefing on border security. Democrats went into it skeptical, saying this was a stunt from the White House. According to Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen did not get too far into her briefing before Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, cut it off and tried to bargain with the president. Afterward, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not sound too optimistic about any progress.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: I don't think any particular progress was made today, but we talked about all aspects of it. And it was a civil discussion. And we're hopeful that somehow in the coming days and weeks, we'll be able to reach an agreement.

DETROW: One very notable word there - weeks...

KELLY: Weeks?

DETROW: ...Coming weeks. No ends in sight, apparently.

KELLY: And what is the latest on what Democrats are offering and what President Trump says he might accept?

DETROW: Well, tomorrow, there's one big change that happens, that Democrats take control of the House of Representatives. And one of the first things they're going to do is call for a vote on two different bills. One would fund every department affected by the shutdown except for one - Department of Homeland Security - for a full year and then a second short-term Homeland Security funding bill. It would take it into early February. Homeland Security, of course, is the department where the funding for the wall would go.

This short-term measure would not include funding for the wall. The Democratic goal is to get everything else running and just focus on that. Here's what Nancy Pelosi, who's going to be speaker of the House as of tomorrow, said after today's meeting at the White House.

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NANCY PELOSI: We're asking the president to open up government. We are giving him a Republican path to do that. Why would he not do it?

DETROW: And what she's referring to there is the fact that the Senate unanimously passed a bill that would have the funding level that Democrats will put in their measure. Before, President Trump reversed course and said, no, he wouldn't sign anything that did not include funding for a border wall. The White House has rejected this approach, saying the president is really dug in here. And he's happy to keep a quarter of the government unfunded and shut down until he gets what he wants.

KELLY: And just to make sure I understand what the Democrats are putting on the table, this would kick the can on Homeland Security down the road a little bit, but meanwhile, would allow the government to reopen while they continue negotiating - or not negotiating, as the case has been.

DETROW: Right. The rest of the affected departments would be funded for a full year and Homeland Security just a matter of weeks. And they could keep going back and forth.

KELLY: OK. I mean, we keep saying this, but it is worth just flagging again that we are now 12 days in, nearly two weeks into this. And until this afternoon, Democrats hadn't even sat down or met with the president in all that time that the shutdown's been in effect.

DETROW: It's very strange and much different than any other sustained shutdown that we've seen in recent history. The last serious negotiation happened one day into the shutdown, when Schumer met with Vice President Mike Pence. And then just nothing happened for more than a week, nearly two weeks. President Trump stayed in Washington, D.C., instead of going to Florida. But he didn't really do much, he just sent out a lot of tweets.

And lawmakers have said one reason why there hasn't been much progress is that it's just hard to negotiate with President Trump because, you know, a White House official, even Vice President Pence will come forward with one proposal, and then President Trump will undercut them days later or sometimes, you know, just a few hours later on Twitter. So Democrats are saying we don't know what the president wants. It's only worth sitting down and talking directly to President Trump.

KELLY: Thank you, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Scott Detrow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.