President Donald Trump has acknowledged that weekend shutdown talks led by his vice president would not break an impasse, as newly empowered House Democrats planned to step up the pressure on Mr Trump and Republican politicians to reopen the government.
Heading to Camp David for staff meetings, Mr Trump showed no signs of budging on his demand for 5.6 billion US dollars for a wall along the US-Mexico border.
Undercutting the staff-level talks, Mr Trump declared that only he could make a deal with Democratic leaders: “In 20 minutes, if they want to.”
Said Mr Trump: “If they don’t want to, it’s going to go on for a long time.”
With the partial shutdown in its third week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she intends to begin passing individual bills to reopen agencies in the coming days, starting with the Treasury Department to ensure people receive their tax refunds.
That effort is designed to squeeze Senate Republicans, some of whom are growing increasingly anxious about the extended shutdown.
V.P. Mike Pence and group had a productive meeting with the Schumer/Pelosi representatives today. Many details of Border Security were discussed. We are now planning a Steel Barrier rather than concrete. It is both stronger & less obtrusive. Good solution, and made in the U.S.A.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 6, 2019
The seemingly intractable budget showdown marks the first clash for Trump and Democrats, who now control the House.
It pits Mr Trump’s unpredictable negotiating stylings against a largely united Democratic front, as many Republicans watch nervously from the sidelines and hundreds of thousands of federal workers go without pay.
After another round of talks led by Vice President Mike Pence with senior congressional aides, Mr Trump tweeted that the session had been “productive”.
But two Democrats familiar with the meeting gave a different take, saying the White House had not provided the budget details they had requested and again declined to re-open government.
Mr Trump said earlier in the day that he was hoping for “some very serious talks come Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday”.
While insisting he wanted to make a deal, he also declared he would not give an inch in his fight for funding for a border barrier, saying: “There’s not going to be any bend right here.”
Speaking to reporters later in the day, Mr Trump said he had told aides to say that they wanted a steel barrier, rather than the concrete wall he promised during the campaign.
Mr Trump said Democrats “don’t like concrete, so we’ll give them steel”.
The president has already suggested his definition of the wall is flexible, but Democrats have made clear they see a wall as immoral and ineffective and prefer other types of border security funded at already agreed upon levels.
Among the Republicans expressing concerns was Senator Susan Collins who said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should take up bills from the Democratic-led House.
“Let’s get those reopened while the negotiations continue,” Ms Collins said on NBC’s Meet The Press.
Democrats criticised Mr McConnell for waiting on Mr Trump’s support, but Ms Collins said she was sympathetic to Mr McConnell’s opposition to moving legislation without agreement from the president.
Several Republicans pushed the Interior Department to find money to restaff national parks amid growing concerns over upkeep and public safety.
And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer suggested that pressure would only mount amid the shutdown, which he said is disrupting Transportation Security Administration operations, home loans and farmers in his state.
Enough with the memes. Just quit hurting innocent people and re-open the government. https://t.co/7cW20gFriH— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 6, 2019
“Democrats and now a growing number of Republicans are coming together and saying let’s open up the government and debate border security separately,” Mr Schumer told reporters in New York.
Adding to concerns, federal workers might miss this week’s paycheques.
Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on NBC’s Meet The Press that if the shutdown continues into Tuesday, “then payroll will not go out as originally planned on Friday night”.
MR Trump reaffirmed that he would consider declaring a national emergency to circumvent Congress and spend money as he saw fit.
Such a move would seem certain to draw legal challenges.