President Trump on Sunday defended his latest bid for border wall funding and blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a partial government shutdown that is now on its 31st day, as a bipartisan group of governors warned that some states are close to running out of money to help the poorest Americans.
In a flurry of morning tweets, Trump rejected conservative complaints that his offer of temporary deportation protections for young immigrants amounts to amnesty and said that Pelosi (Calif.) and other Democrats “turned down my offer yesterday before I even got up to speak.”
“She is so petrified of the ‘lefties’ in her party that she has lost control,” Trump said of the House speaker.
Pelosi fired back at Trump on Twitter, urging him to “re-open the government, let workers get their paychecks and then we can discuss how we can come together to protect the border.”
The squabbling is the latest sign that both sides remain far apart as the longest government shutdown in history drags on, troubling news for the 800,000 federal employees who have gone without a paycheck and are resorting to food banks, charity and other employment to get by.
As states scramble to mitigate the impact of the shutdown, the National Governors Association sent a letter to congressional leaders on Sunday urging the Senate to immediately pass an extension of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the federal welfare program known as TANF.
The $16.5 billion block grant program supports cash welfare benefits and other services for low-income families. At least one state is expected to exhaust its funding early next month, the association said, while the situation in other states varies “based on caseload and enrollment.”
“It is untenable for states to administer effective TANF programs given the current uncertainty,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) said in the letter.
On Sunday night, Trump praised furloughed federal workers as “GREAT PATRIOTS” and again called for a border deal.
“We must now work together, after decades of abuse, to finally fix the Humanitarian, Criminal & Drug Crisis at our Border. WE WILL WIN BIG!” he said in a tweet.
On Saturday, Trump had offered Democrats three years of deportation protections for some immigrants, including those who are enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, in exchange for $5.7 billion in border wall funding. The proposal was immediately rejected by Democrats and derided by conservatives as amnesty.
Nonetheless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he will move ahead this week on Trump’s proposal. He faces an uphill climb in breaking the Senate’s 60-vote threshold of a filibuster, with Democrats insisting that they will not negotiate on immigration until Trump reopens the government.
The DACA program provides work permits to more than 700,000 undocumented young immigrants, known as “dreamers,” who were brought to the country illegally as children. Trump’s offer Saturday also included a reprieve of his effort to end the temporary protected status (TPS) program for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who fled their home countries after natural disasters and other emergencies.
Trump sought on Sunday to rebut conservative critiques of his latest proposal, maintaining in a tweet that “No, Amnesty is not a part of my offer.”
“It is a 3 year extension of DACA,” he said. “Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else. Likewise there will be no big push to remove the 11,000,000 plus people who are here illegally-but be careful Nancy!”
Trump’s reference to amnesty in the tweet could create confusion and is unlikely to help him get his plan through Congress.
Asked about the tweet, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said on ABC’s “This Week” that he wasn’t certain what the president meant.
“What I don’t know is what the president’s talking about there, to say amnesty really involves a much larger group,” Lankford said. “That’s a longer debate and obviously not something we can solve quickly.”
Trump previously had flirted with a larger immigration deal.
In January 2018, Democrats thought Trump was close to accepting their offer of $25 billion for the wall in exchange for a path to citizenship for dreamers.
But conservatives revolted, prompting Trump to reject the offer and demand additional concessions to speed up deportations and cut legal immigration programs. The talks collapsed soon thereafter. Democrats and immigrant rights groups say they are hesitant to resume such talks because they don’t trust Trump to follow through on any agreement in the face of conservative opposition.
In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Vice President Pence reiterated that Trump’s proposal “is not amnesty” because “there’s no pathway to citizenship.”
“There’s no permanent status here at all, which is what amnesty contemplates,” Pence said. But in a separate interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Pence declined to elaborate on whether Trump’s tweet meant that he was leaving the door open to amnesty in the future.
“I’ll let the president’s words stand,” Pence said. He added that Trump is “absolutely determined” to build “234 miles of additional steel barrier” along the U.S.-Mexico border, which the White House outlined in a letter to lawmakers earlier this month.
On the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Pence also invoked the legacy of the slain civil rights leader, noting that he “inspired us to change through the legislative process to become a more perfect union.”
“That’s exactly what President Trump is calling on the Congress to do,” Pence said. “Come to the table in a spirit of good faith. We’ll secure our border, we’ll reopen the government, and we’ll move our nation forward as the president said [Saturday] to even a broader discussion about immigration reform in the months ahead.”
His comment drew immediate pushback from some Democrats, including Rep. Jackie Speier (Calif.), who said in a tweet that Trump “is no MLK” and that the vice president owes an apology to the country and King’s memory.
“To equate the legacy of one of America’s finest statesmen and champions of civil rights with a vanity project built on racist ideology and hatred is beyond disgraceful,” Speier said.
Other Democrats on the Sunday morning news shows rallied behind Pelosi and dismissed Trump’s proposal.
Asked by NBC’s Chuck Todd whether Trump’s offer signals “progress,” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said the government must reopen before any work on border security can commence.
“We cannot reward the kind of behavior of hostage-taking,” Warner said on “Meet the Press.” “If the president can arbitrarily shut down the government, he will do it time and time again.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who is pursuing a 2020 presidential bid, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that her counteroffer to Trump would be “what we put on the table a year ago and voted for, which was to protect all dreamers.”
Gillibrand held some similar positions to Trump’s on immigration in 2008, when she said she was a “firm opponent” of giving amnesty to undocumented immigrants and called for English to be the official language of the United States. CNN’s Jake Tapper pressed her on whether those positions — which she now calls Trump “racist” for holding — meant she was racist at the time.
“They certainly weren’t empathetic, and they weren’t kind, and I didn’t think about suffering in people’s lives,” Gillibrand said. “I realized that things I had said were wrong. I was not caring about others. I was not fighting for other people’s kids the same way I was fighting for my own.”
McConnell has announced that he will bring Trump’s proposal to the Senate floor for a vote in the coming week. But Pelosi dismissed the plan on Saturday as a “non-starter” and said Democrats in the House would pass their own legislation to reopen the government, once again putting pressure on the Senate to act.
As the shutdown continues, the fate of Trump’s State of the Union address remains unclear. Pelosi wrote a letter to Trump last week suggesting that he postpone his Jan. 29 speech until the government reopens.
On Sunday, Trump addressed Pelosi in a tweet, saying that he is “still thinking about” the speech and that there are “so many options,” including delivering it in person before Congress as originally planned.
“While a contract is a contract, I’ll get back to you soon!” Trump said.
David Nakamura, Paige Winfield Cunningham and Lisa Rein contributed to this report.