White House calls Democrats’ plan to end shutdown ‘non-starter’

US flag near the US Capitol
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President Donald Trump invited Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress to the White House on Wednesday for a border security briefing on the 12th day of a partial federal government shutdown triggered by the Republican president’s demand for $5 billion in border wall funding.

Senior Department of Homeland Security officials will brief the congressional leaders, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, on the last day of the Republican-controlled 2017-2018 Congress.

It was unclear if the meeting would lead to a breakthrough in the standoff over a funding dispute that centres of Trump’s demand that $5 billion in funding for a wall on the Mexican border to be part of any spending measure.

Democrats rejected the demand and parts of the federal government have been shut since 22 December 2018 because of lack of funding as a result.

When Democrats, led by presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, take over the House on Thursday, they plan to approve a two-part spending package meant to end the shutdown. But its prospects of passage are grim in the Senate, where Republicans hold a majority.

The House Democrats’ measure does not contain the $5 billion Trump wants for the wall, one of his key campaign promises and sets up the first major battle of the new Congress between House Democrats led by Pelosi and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The White House dismissed the Democrats’ proposal.

“The Pelosi plan is a non-starter because it does not fund our homeland security or keep American families safe from human trafficking, drugs, and crime,” Sanders said in a statement late on Tuesday.

Tump remains committed to “an agreement that both reopens the government and keeps Americans safe,” she said.

Trump said last month he would be “proud” to shut down the government over the issue but then blamed Democrats.

McConnell has said Senate Republicans will not approve a spending measure that Trump does not support. The Democrats’ two-part package includes a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security at current levels through 8 February and provide $1.3 billion for border fencing and $300 million for other border security items including technology and cameras.

The second part of the package would fund federal agencies that are now unfunded, such as the Justice, Commerce and Transportation departments, through 30 September.

Trump says the wall crucial to curbing illegal immigration. Democrats disagree, with Pelosi calling the wall immoral, ineffective and expensive.

Trump repeatedly said during the presidential campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico has refused and US taxpayers likely will be left footing the bill.

The Democratic package could put Trump and his Republican allies in a tough position. If they reject funding bills for departments unconnected to border security, Republicans could be seen as holding those agencies and their roughly 800 000 affected workers hostage to Trump’s desire to build a wall.