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Trump urges Senate Republicans to ‘just hang together’ on border battle

President meets with GOP caucus after several allies urged him to compromise on shutdown standoff

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence arrive at the Capitol to attend a Senate Republican policy luncheon last week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence arrive at the Capitol to attend a Senate Republican policy luncheon last week. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump urged Senate Republicans to hold the line on a partial government shutdown in its 19th day after saying he would do “whatever it takes” — including a national emergency declaration — to get billions for his southern border wall.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence met with Senate Republicans during their weekly luncheon after a handful of them said publicly that the president should compromise with congressional Democrats rather than hold firm to his demand for $5.7 billion for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border barrier.

“The president was very strong today. His message was just hang together, just stay cohesive,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby of Alabama said after Trump departed. “He’s right on that, but at the same time from my perspective the sooner people get together and start talking rationally — the Democrats, too … We might resolve this.”

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida left the meeting and said Trump could still declare a national emergency in an attempt to redirect government funding toward border barrier construction.

Trump says no sign of GOP disunity, may still declare national emergency

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“It remained an option. He wasn’t going to do it right away but it remained an option,” Rubio told reporters.

[Trump threatens he’ll declare national emergency for wall if no deal]

Trump left the meeting with an upbeat message, saying Senate Republicans are “unified” while Democrats are anything but. He did not support either claim, but not a single Democratic member has said they would support legislation that includes his $5.7 billion border demand.

“Everybody in that room was fantastic. There was no reason for me to even be [here]. I knew that before I even went,” he claimed.

“The Republican Party, I can say, we had an hour meeting, a great time. There was no discussion about anything but solidarity,” Trump contended.

“We were all behind the president on the border security issue,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, standing beside the president after the luncheon.

Trump again said he might declare a national emergency “if Chuck and Nancy … don’t agree to the fact that our country really has a problem,” he said, referring to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer. He will be meeting with them and Republican leaders in the White House Situation Room at 3 p.m.

During an Oval Office address about what he calls a border security “crisis” on Tuesday night, Trump said of the resumption of talks that he wants to “get this done.”

Trump’s visit to the Capitol was arranged after a handful of Republican senators — including Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — broke ranks with the GOP president and called on him to seek common ground with Democratic leaders.

Murkowski said she expressed her hope during the lunch that the partial government shutdown would end soon, even if an agreement hasn’t been reached on border barrier spending.

“I shared my support for the need for border security in the country and what we need to do from a humanitarian perspective, but recognition that when the government is shut down there are consequences and people are starting to feel those consequences,” she said. “I want us to figure out how we can provide for security in this country — meet the president’s priority there, address the humanitarian issues — but do so while we have a functioning government and being in a partial shutdown is a partial shutdown.”

[Trump cuts off federal funds to California to fight ‘Forrest fires’]

Trump and top aides in recent days have denied there is any fraying among Senate Republicans on Trump’s insistence he get his wall money in return for agreeing to re-open nine federal entities and other smaller offices. On his way into the Capitol, Trump told reporters he still has “unwavering” support among the House and GOP caucuses.

On Monday, Vice President Mike Pence was asked if White House officials are concerned about “cracks” among GOP senators. “We’ve been in touch with those members and others,” he said. “What we hear from Republican members and, frankly, quietly from many Democrat members is that when they see the scope of this crisis, when they see the facts presented to them, that they understand why the president is so adamant about doing something meaningful to advance border security.”

Pence described his Tuesday briefing to House Republicans and Trump’s Wednesday visit with the Senate GOP roster as the White House “educating members” on what administration officials are now calling a “security and humanitarian crisis.”

But Murkowski told reporters that six shuttered federal departments other than the Department of Homeland Security “don’t have anything to do with border security.” She wants to “bifurcate” the border debate from the other shuttered agencies and then “we can focus on his very legitimate concerns about border security.”

Niels Lesniewski and Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

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