U.S. President Donald Trump headed Thursday to the U.S.-Mexico border for a firsthand look at efforts to thwart illegal immigration, a day after declaring that talks with opposition Democratic leaders on border security and the partial government shutdown were a “total waste of time.”
Before leaving for McAllen, Texas, Trump said on Twitter there is “GREAT unity” among Republican lawmakers who support him keeping a quarter of the federal government closed in a dispute over his demand for more than $5 billion in new funding for a wall, “despite the Fake News Media working in overdrive to make the story look otherwise.” Democrats have offered $1.3 billion in new funding for border security, but none for a wall.
WATCH: Frustrations Run High in Third Week of Shutdown
A small number of Republicans have questioned Trump’s refusal to reopen the agencies that have been shuttered since Dec. 22, a 20-day closure that is the second longest in U.S. history, two days short of a new record. Some government services have been curtailed, with about 800,000 federal workers furloughed or forced to work without pay. All will miss their first paycheck on Friday.
Trump said, “The Opposition Party & the Dems know we must have Strong Border Security, but don’t want to give ‘Trump’ another one of many wins!”
Trump’s White House talks with Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi collapsed Thursday. Trump walked out of the meeting when Pelosi told the president she would not yield on money for a wall, even if he reopened the government and they negotiated for another 30 days on border security.
Schumer said Trump had a “temper tantrum,” a characterization Trump rejected.
“Cryin Chuck told his favorite lie when he used his standard sound bite that I ‘slammed the table & walked out of the room. He had a temper tantrum,’” Trump tweeted. “Because I knew he would say that, and after Nancy said no to proper Border Security, I politely said bye-bye and left, no slamming!”
Trump’s visit to Texas is scheduled to include border security briefings as well as stops at a Border Patrol station and the area along the Rio Grande.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection data indicate the Rio Grande Valley sector is where in recent years agents have apprehended by far the most people trying to illegally cross into the country. In 2017, it accounted for 44 percent of border apprehensions.
Texas rights groups opposed to Trump’s demand for border wall funding and his immigration policies are planning a demonstration at McAllen’s airport.
Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat who represents McAllen in Congress, said he is glad Trump is visiting the district, but that what the United States needs is intelligent spending that brings real security to the region.
“You’ll see one of the safest communities in the state and in the country. You will see that we don’t need a wall,” Gonzalez said in a video message Wednesday. “What we need to do is figure how we’re going to fill the 7,500 vacancies in our Customs and Border Patrol. We need to use technology to secure the border.”
Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, both Texas Republicans, are traveling with Trump and say the border wall is necessary.
In his successful run for the presidency in 2016, Trump often called for construction of a concrete wall and said Mexico would pay for it. But with Mexico refusing, Trump has unsuccessfully sought congressional approval for U.S. taxpayer funding of the barrier, which he now says would be steel slats.
In recent days, Trump has said he might end the shutdown controversy by declaring a national emergency and tap military construction funds designated for other projects to build the wall without congressional approval.
Legal experts say Trump might be able to pay for the wall in that way, although court challenges are a certainty.
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Photo “Donald Trump” by CBS News.