New caravan of Honduran migrants crosses into Mexico

People belonging to a caravan of migrants from Honduras en route to the United States, walk at the border crossing to Mexico in Hidalgo, Mexico, January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

By Sofia Menchu

CIUDAD HIDALGO, Mexico (Reuters) – A group of Honduran migrants entered southern Mexico on Friday, joining more than 1,000 people who departed Central America in recent days headed to the United States and putting to the test Mexico’s vows to guarantee the safe and orderly flow of people.

The cohort crossed into southern Chiapas state before dawn without needing wrist bands that migration officials the day before told migrants to wear until they could register with authorities, several migrants and an official told Reuters.

“The road today was open … They didn’t give us bracelets or anything, they just let us pass through Mexico migration,” said Marco Antonio Cortez, 37, a baker from Honduras traveling with his wife and children, ages 2 and 9.

A migration official at the entry point, who asked not to be named because she was not authorized to speak to media, said that at least 1,000 people crossed from Guatemala into Mexico by around 5 a.m., without needing wrist bands.

The group proceeded on foot alongside cars on a highway, accompanied by federal police officers.

Mexico’s migration institute did not respond to a request for comment.

Groups of migrants departed from El Salvador and Honduras earlier in the week, the latest in a string of caravans of people largely fleeing poverty and violence.

The caravans have inflamed the debate over U.S. immigration policy, with U.S. President Donald Trump using the migrants to try to secure backing for his plan to build a wall at the southern border with Mexico.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is pursuing a “humanitarian” approach to the problem, vowing to stem the flow of people by finding jobs for the migrants. In exchange, he wants Trump to help spur economic development in the region.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu, Writing by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Susan Thomas)

‘El Chapo’ paid former Mexican president $100 million bribe: trial witness

Defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman (L) cross examines Alex Cifuentes (C), a close associate of the accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman (R) in this courtroom sketch in Brooklyn federal court in New York, U.S., January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

By Brendan Pierson

(Reuters) – Accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman once paid a $100 million bribe to former Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, a former associate testified on Tuesday that he previously told U.S. authorities.

Alex Cifuentes, who has described himself as Guzman’s onetime right-hand man, discussed the alleged bribe under cross-examination by one of Guzman’s lawyers in Brooklyn federal court. Asked if he told authorities in 2016 that Guzman arranged the bribe, he answered, “That’s right.”

Cifuentes testified that he had told U.S. prosecutors Pena Nieto reached out to Guzman first, asking for $250 million. Cifuentes told the prosecutors that the bribe was paid in October 2012, when Pena Nieto was president-elect, he testified.

Cifuentes said he told prosecutors at a later meeting, last year, that he was no longer sure of the exact amounts of the bribes, but did not elaborate.

Cifuentes also said testified that Guzman once told him that he had received a message from Pena Nieto saying that he did not have to live in hiding anymore.

Pena Nieto has previously denied taking bribes from drug traffickers.

Reuters could not immediately reach Pena Nieto for comment. His former spokesman and other former officials did not immediately respond to messages requesting comment.

Pena Nieto was president of Mexico from December 2012 until November 2018. He previously served as governor of the State of Mexico.

Guzman, 61, has been on trial since November. He was extradited to the United States in 2017 to face charges of trafficking cocaine, heroin and other drugs into the country as leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Captured by Pena Nieto’s government in February 2014, Guzman broke out of prison for a second time some 17 months later, escaping through a mile-long tunnel dug right into in his cell.

The jailbreak humiliated the government and battered the president’s already damaged credibility, though Pena Nieto personally announced news of the kingpin’s third capture when he was again arrested in northwestern Mexico in January 2016.

Colombian-born Cifuentes is one of about a dozen witnesses who have so far testified against Guzman after striking deals with U.S. prosecutors, in a trial that has provided a window into the secretive world of the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the world’s most powerful drug trafficking organization.

Other witnesses at the trial have also made accusations of high-level corruption.

Jesus Zambada, another cartel member, testified in November he paid a multimillion dollar bribe to an aide of current Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in 2005. The aide was not named but later Gabriel Regino, an official in Mexico City when Lopez Obrador was mayor, wrote on Twitter that an accusation of bribery had emerged against him in the trial but was false.

Cifuentes earlier on Tuesday had also testified that Guzman asked an associate to pay a $10 million bribe to a general. The witness said the bribe was never paid and Guzman subsequently ordered the associate killed, though the hit was never carried out.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York and David Graham in Mexico City; Editing by Tom Brown and Lisa Shumaker)

Grisly Mexican gang battle near U.S. border leaves 21 dead

FILE PHOTO: A logo patch is shown on the uniform of a U.S. Border Patrol agent near the international border between Mexico and the United States south of San Diego, California March 26, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake

By Delphine Schrank

REYNOSA, Mexico (Reuters) – The charred remains of 21 people killed in a suspected gang battle have been found in a Mexican border town, just over the river from where U.S. President Donald Trump was seeking to win support on Thursday for his plan to build a border wall.

Officials in the notoriously violent border state of Tamaulipas said they were investigating the incident, which took place in Ciudad Miguel Aleman, after discovering the bodies on Wednesday. Seventeen of the bodies were burned.

Photos shared with Reuters by a state official show the deceased scattered along a dirt track in scrubland, alongside burned-out vehicles.

Trump visited McAllen, Texas on Thursday afternoon, about 90 kilometers (56 miles) from Ciudad Miguel Aleman. He threatened to use emergency powers to bypass Congress and get billions of dollars to pay for the wall.

He has justified that demand by saying that undocumented migrants, criminals and illegal drugs have been pouring across the border. Statistics show illegal immigration has fallen to a 20-year low, while many drugs are believed to enter through legal ports of entry.

In Tamaulipas, turf wars between the local Gulf Cartel and its chief rival, the Zetas, have been a key source of bloodshed over recent years.

One body found was wearing the remains of a baseball cap bearing the letters and logo of the Gulf Cartel, while others wore the remains of bullet-proof vests with the same insignia, according to the photos.

Luis Rodriguez, a spokesman for state police, said in a statement that it appeared gunmen from the Gulf Cartel had fought with members of the Northeast Cartel, a group that split off from the Zetas.

Irving Barrios, the state’s attorney general, said in a radio interview that authorities found semi-automatic weapons and bulletproof vehicles at the site.

The area is “greatly fought over” by traffickers of arms and drugs as well as those who help undocumented migrants to cross to the United States, he said.

Another confrontation on Thursday morning between an armed group and military forces in Nueva Ciudad Guerrero, also in Tamaulipas, left five people dead and one military officer injured, said a representative from the state’s peace coordination group.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Mexico during years of fighting between security forces and cartels warring over drug trafficking, extortion rackets and the exploitation of migrants.

(Reporting by Delphine Schrank in Reynosa, additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana and Michael O’Boyle and Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City; editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

As U.S. shutdown ties record, Trump weighs emergency declaration

President Donald Trump salutes a U.S. Border Patrol helicopter as he stands with U.S. Border Patrol agents as it flies over the Rio Grande River during his visit to the U.S. - Mexico border in Mission, Texas, U.S., January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump, facing the prospect of the longest U.S. government shutdown in history, is considering declaring a national emergency that would likely escalate a policy dispute with Democrats over his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall into a court test of presidential power.

To escape a political trap of his own making, Trump on Thursday suggested that he might declare an emergency so he can bypass Congress to get funding for his wall, which was a central promise of his 2016 election campaign.

As the partial government shutdown entered its 21st day on Friday, Trump reiterated his claim in an early-morning tweet, saying Mexico would indirectly pay for the wall, without offering any evidence. It would become the longest U.S. shutdown on Saturday.

He originally pledged Mexico would pay for the wall, which he says is needed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs. But the Mexican government has refused. Trump is now demanding that Congress provide $5.7 billion in U.S. taxpayer funding for the wall.

Democrats in Congress call the wall an ineffective, outdated answer to a complex problem. The standoff has left a quarter of the federal government closed down and hundreds of thousands of federal employees staying home on furlough or working without pay set to miss their paychecks.

With no Capitol Hill compromise in sight, Trump publicly ruminated on Thursday during a trip to the Texas border about declaring an emergency.

A close Trump confidant judged the time for such a step had come. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said in a statement: “It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier. I hope it works.”

The Wall Street Journal, NBC and the Washington Post, citing unnamed sources, reported that the White House had asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to look into diverting money from its budget toward the wall and to explore how fast construction could begin under an emergency declaration. Reuters could not immediately verify the accuracy of the reports.

BOXED IN

Critics of the national emergency strategy have said it may be illegal. In any case, it was almost certain to trigger an immediate court challenge from Democrats, including an accusation of trying to circumvent Congress’ power over the national purse strings.

That would push the wall impasse into the courts, allowing the government to be fully reopened while the judges weigh the case, which could take months.

“After the emergency announcement, the path toward construction via executive order may be as unclear as a storm at midnight. But it will at least allow the president to move out of the corner he’s boxed himself into,” said Charles Gabriel, analyst at strategy firm Capital Alpha Partners.

Partial government funding expired on Dec. 22, leaving departments ranging from Justice, Agriculture and Treasury to Commerce and Homeland Security without money to operate programs and pay their workers.

An emergency declaration would come with risks. Even some of Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress have signaled worries about such an action. Given that the Constitution gives Congress the power to set spending priorities and appropriate money, they worry about a tough legal fight and an unwise precedent.

‘CROSSING THE RUBICON’

“If Trump crosses this Rubicon, what would prevent a Democratic president from declaring a ‘national emergency’ on Day 1 of their administration on climate change and/or healthcare?” Chris Krueger, an analyst at strategy firm Cowen Washington Research Group, asked in a commentary note.

Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat who has had good relations with Trump, said declaring a national emergency would be “wrong, but I think that’s his only way out.”

Manchin predicted that if Trump made the declaration, Congress would immediately move to pass bills funding the various agencies, knowing that the president would then be able to sign them into law.

While some Republican senators have begun clamoring for an end to the shutdown, party leaders toeing Trump’s line this week have ignored passage in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives of funding bills for government agencies. The House was expected to pass more such bills on Friday.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)

Mexico prepares for arrival of next Central American migrant caravan

FILE PHOTO: Migrants, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, leave a temporary shelter voluntarily, which is to be closed by Mexican authorities for sanitary reasons, in Tijuana Mexico January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Duenes

By Diego Oré

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexican authorities will meet with Central American officials to prepare for the arrival of a planned new caravan of migrants headed to the United States next week.

The head of Mexico’s immigration office, Tonatiuh Guillen, left on Wednesday on a trip to El Salvador and Honduras to meet with his counterparts and other authorities, said Interior Ministry spokesman Hector Gandini.

Mexico hopes to discourage a mass exodus from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and wants Central Americans who decide to migrate north to do so in an orderly way and through legal ports of entry.

“The doors to Mexico are open to anyone who wants to enter in an orderly fashion,” Gandini told Reuters in a telephone interview. “But whoever wants to come in illegally will be deported.”

Previous Central American caravans became a flashpoint in the debate over U.S. immigration policy.

That was intensified by the recent deaths of two migrant children in American custody and a partial U.S. government shutdown over U.S. President Donald Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in funding for a wall along the border with Mexico.

There are 12 legal ports of entry for Central Americans on Mexico’s southern border, but Mexican authorities have identified an additional 370 illegal points of entry on that frontier, Interior Minister Olga Sanchez said this week.

Mexico borders in the south with Guatemala and Belize.

The illegal entry points will be “monitored and controlled to avoid undocumented access of people to our territory,” Sanchez said.

Guatemala’s deputy foreign minister, Pablo Cesar Garcia, met with Mexican authorities on Tuesday to discuss the caravan and to “provide all the necessary support to the migrants,” said Guatemalan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marta Larra.

“In Honduras, they kill us,” read an appeal circulating on social media for people to assemble in the violent Honduran city of San Pedro Sula next Tuesday to start the long trek north to the United States.

While other social media posts invite people to leave from nearby Santa Barbara on Jan. 20, U.S. authorities hoped to dissuade Central Americans from making the journey.

“The risks of illegal immigration are serious. Don’t waste your time and money on a trip destined to fail. The road is long and very dangerous. Thousands of Hondurans who participated in the caravan came back sorry,” Heide Fulton, the U.S chargé d’affaires to Honduras, said on Twitter on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Diego Ore; Additional reporting by Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa, Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City, Nelson Renteria in San Salvador and Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana, Mexico; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Trump heads to U.S. border with Mexico to press case for wall

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs for a visit to the U.S. southern border area in Texas from the White House in Washington, U.S., January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump heads to Texas on Thursday to press his case that the country is facing a crisis that can only be solved by spending billions of dollars to construct a wall along the border with Mexico.

His trip to the border town of McAllen, Texas, comes on the 20th day of a partial government shutdown that has left hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work or working without pay, while Trump and fellow Republicans fight with Democrats over his demand for $5.7 billion this year to construct the barrier.

Trump’s plan to build a wall at the southern border was a central promise of his 2016 presidential campaign. He said last month he would be “proud” to shut the government down over the issue but has since blamed Democrats.

He also has been considering whether to declare a national emergency and use it to circumvent Congress by building the wall with money allocated for the Department of Defense. Democrats who control the House of Representatives refuse to approve the wall funding.

Critics say such a move by Trump would be illegal and plan to immediately challenge it in court. Even some Republicans who want to build a wall have said they do not want money to be taken from the military to pay for it.

Trump will travel to Texas with the state’s two U.S. senators, Republicans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. After Trump’s midday visit, Cornyn will host a roundtable discussion with area mayors, judges, law enforcement personnel and others involved with the border issue.

On Dec. 22, about 25 percent of the government – excluding mainly the Department of Defense and health-related programs – shut down because of Congress’ inability to complete work by a September deadline on funding all government agencies.

Backed by most Republicans in Congress, as well as his most ardent supporters, Trump has said he will not sign any bill to reopen the government that does not provide the funds he wants for the wall.

“There is GREAT unity with the Republicans in the House and Senate, despite the Fake News Media working in overdrive to make the story look otherwise,” Trump tweeted on Thursday ahead of his departure. “The Opposition Party & the Dems know we must have Strong Border Security, but don’t want to give ‘Trump’ another one of many wins!”

ACRIMONIOUS MEETING

The impasse has continued while Trump’s meetings with Democratic congressional leaders have ended in acrimony. On Wednesday, he stormed out of a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, calling it “a total waste of time.”

Trump says undocumented immigrants and illegal drugs are streaming across the border from Mexico, despite statistics that show illegal immigration there is at a 20-year low and that many drug shipments likely are smuggled through legal ports of entry.

Democrats accuse Trump of using fear tactics and spreading misinformation about the border situation in order to fulfill a 2016 campaign promise as he looks toward his race for re-election in 2020.

The president has been working to make his case to the public, and bolster any congressional Republicans who might be wavering.

Pressure on them could intensify on Friday when about 800,000 federal employees – including border patrol agents and airport security screeners – miss their first paychecks.

On Tuesday, Trump said in his first prime-time television address from the Oval Office that there was a growing security and humanitarian crisis at the border.

On Wednesday, he visited Republican lawmakers at the U.S. Capitol, emerging from a meeting to say his party was “very unified.”

Less than two hours later, eight Republicans in the House voted with majority Democrats on a bill that would reopen the Treasury Department and some other programs and did not include any funding for the wall.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear, however, that he will not allow that chamber to vote on any measure that does not include wall funding.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Peter Cooney and Bill Trott)

In Oval Office speech, Trump demands a wall but does not declare emergency

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a televised address to the nation from his desk in the Oval Office, about immigration and the southern U.S. border on the 18th day of a partial government shutdown, at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump urged Congress in a televised speech on Tuesday to give him $5.7 billion this year to help build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico but stopped short of declaring a national emergency to pay for the barrier with military funds.

Facing Democratic opposition in Congress to a wall that he promised to build as a presidential candidate, Trump said in his first prime-time address from the Oval Office that there was a growing security and humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Using blunt language in an attempt to win public support, the Republican president said illegal immigrants and drugs flowing across the southern border posed a serious threat to American safety.

“How much more American blood must be shed before Congress does its job?” he said, recounting gruesome details of murders he said were committed by illegal immigrants.

But after days of hinting he might use presidential powers to declare an emergency as a first step toward directing money for the wall without congressional approval, Trump said he would continue seeking a solution to the impasse with Congress.

Trump’s speech came 18 days into a partial government shutdown precipitated by his demand for the wall. Public opposition to the shutdown is growing and that could hurt Trump, as he said last month he would be proud to close the government to fight for the wall.

Democratic leaders, in a rebuttal also carried live on national television, accused the president on Tuesday night of using fear tactics and spreading misinformation about the situation along the border.

“The president has chosen fear. We want to start with the facts,” said Nancy Pelosi, Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives.

“The fact is, President Trump has chosen to hold hostage critical services for the health, safety and well-being of the American people and withhold the paychecks of 800,000 innocent workers across the nation, many of them veterans,” she said.

BLAME GAME

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday found that 51 percent of adults mainly blamed Trump for the shutdown, up 4 percentage points from late December, while 32 percent blamed congressional Democrats and 7 percent faulted Republicans in Congress.

Republican lawmakers have increasingly expressed concerns about Trump’s handling of the long-running dispute.

But he has shown no signs of giving up. He is scheduled to visit the southwest border on Thursday and may still choose to make the national emergency declaration.

Vice President Mike Pence told reporters on Monday the president was considering the possibility and the White House counsel’s office was studying its legality.

Democrats and other opponents of a wall have threatened to take legal action if Trump issues an emergency order.

They say he is manufacturing a crisis in a bid to meet his 2016 presidential campaign promise for a wall that he said at the time would be paid for by Mexico. The Mexican government has refused to provide such funds.

Trump was to meet at the White House on Wednesday with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders.

Politics colored the remarks from both sides on Tuesday.

Trump said African-Americans and Hispanics were especially hard hit by the border crisis; both groups are key Democratic constituencies. Pelosi pointedly mentioned that veterans were hurt by the shutdown; Trump has courted veterans as a candidate and as president.

Trump at times tried to adopt a softer tone. “This is a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul,” he said, suggesting that women and children were among the migrants often victimized by trafficking across the border.

Hoping to demonstrate flexibility during his nearly 10-minute speech, Trump said of the border barrier he wants to be built: “At the request of the Democrats it will be a steel barrier and not a concrete wall.”

But Democrats have opposed not just the construction materials to be used, but the extent of a project that could end up costing more than $24 billion over the long run.

Democrats also argue that a mix of fencing, which already has been constructed in many parts of the border, and higher-tech tools would be cheaper and more effective in securing the border.

Pelosi said Trump rejected bipartisan legislation to reopen the government agencies shuttered as a result of the fight over the wall, and that he was obsessed with “forcing American taxpayers to waste billions of dollars on an expensive and ineffective wall.”

She has previously called the wall immoral. Trump took issue with that in his speech.

“The only thing that is immoral is the politicians to do nothing and continue to allow more innocent people to be so horribly victimized,” he said.

U.S. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who delivered a rebuttal along with Pelosi, urged the president to reopen the government while the debate over immigration policies continued.

“The symbol of America should be the Statue of Liberty, not a 30-foot wall,” he said. “So our suggestion is a simple one. Mr. President: Reopen the government and we can work to resolve our differences over border security. But end this shutdown now.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker, Eric Beech and David Alexander in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Trump holds firm on border wall, offers steel option as compromise

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he returns from Camp David to the White House in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Jeff Mason and Ginger Gibson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump pledged on Sunday not to bend in his demand for a wall along the southern border with Mexico but said the barrier could be made of steel instead of concrete as a potential compromise with Democrats who refuse to fund it.

Trump’s comments came at the start of the third week of a partial government shutdown resulting from the dispute that has left hundreds of thousands of federal workers idled or without paychecks.

Trump threatened again, without providing specifics on where the funding would originate, to declare a national emergency as an alternative way to build the wall, depending on the outcome of talks in the coming days.

Democrats have declined to approve the $5.6 billion Trump wants to fulfill a 2016 campaign promise to curb illegal immigration. Led by new Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrats passed a bill in the House of Representatives last week to reopen the government without wall funding. Pelosi has called a border wall immoral.

“This is a very important battle to win from the standpoint of safety, number one, (and) defining our country and who we are,” Trump told reporters at the White House before leaving for a short trip to the Camp David presidential retreat.

“The barrier, or the wall, can be of steel instead of concrete if that helps people. It may be better,” he said.

The White House painted that offer, which Trump floated previously, as an olive branch.

In a letter to congressional leaders on Sunday detailing its funding demands, the Trump administration included a request for an additional $800 million to address urgent humanitarian needs at the southern border.

Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s acting chief of staff, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that agreeing to a steel barrier would allow Democrats to stick to their refusal to fund a wall.

“That should help us move in the right direction,” he said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer did not show his hand when asked whether the White House offer to move away from a concrete structure was evidence of compromise.

“It’ll be discussed,” he said on NBC.

Vice President Mike Pence led a second round of talks with congressional aides on Sunday about the issue, but Trump said he did not expect those talks to produce results, noting that the principals – himself, Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer – were the ones who could solve it quickly.

“If we don’t find a solution, it’s going to go on for a long time. There’s not going to be any bend right here,” Trump said.

He later tweeted that the Pence talks were productive. But a Democratic aide familiar with the meeting said Democrats urged the White House to pass measures to reopen the government without wall funding and Pence said Trump would not do that. The aide said no progress was made and no further meetings of the group were scheduled.

OTHER CONCESSIONS?

Democrats could demand other concessions from the White House, such as protections for immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children, known as Dreamers, or changes to other spending provisions. Trump said he wanted to help on the Dreamer issue but preferred to wait for a Supreme Court ruling on it first.

Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin reacted coolly to Trump’s suggestion of declaring a national emergency. “I don’t know what he’s basing this on, but he’s faced so many lawsuits when he ignores the law and ignores tradition and precedent,” Durbin said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Large chunks of the federal government were shut down on Dec. 22 after lawmakers and the president hit an impasse over Trump’s demand that a bill to keep the federal government operational include money to help build a $23 billion wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. About 800,000 government workers are either furloughed or working without pay.

“I can relate,” Trump, a former New York businessman, said when asked if he could relate to the pain of federal workers struggling to pay their bills. “I’m sure that the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustments.” Asked if workers would get paid on Friday, Trump said: “We’ll see whether or not it’s settled.”

Not all Republicans agree with Trump’s insistence on keeping government agencies shuttered until the border debate is resolved.

“It is not a sign of weakness to try to figure out a middle ground, and I think that both sides need to indicate a willingness to listen and to compromise, U.S. Senator Susan Collins of Maine said on NBC. She called the debate over using steel versus concrete “bizarre.”

House Democrats plan to pass a series of bills this week to reopen government, breaking up legislation they have already approved in a bid to get Republicans to agree to reopen certain agencies, Hoyer said on “Meet the Press.”

“We need to open up government and then negotiate. Not the other way around,” he said.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Ginger Gibson; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker and Pete Schroeder; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Peter Cooney)

Trump, Democrats dig in over ending government shutdown

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters about border security in the Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump and congressional leaders gathered at the White House on Friday to try to end a 2-week-old partial U.S. government shutdown but all parties were entrenched over his demand for $5 billion to build a wall on the border with Mexico.

About 800,000 federal workers have been unpaid due to the closure of about a quarter of the federal government as Trump withholds his support for new funding until he secures the money for the wall that he promised to construct during his election campaign.

The wall, Trump has argued, is needed to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs over the border. When he ran for president in 2016, Trump vowed Mexico would pay for the wall, which it has refused to do.

Democratic congressional leaders arrived at the White House for the meeting with Trump but it was unclear how much progress might be made.

It is the first showdown between Trump and Democrats since they took over the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday after victories in last November’s elections.

“The president isn’t going to back off,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters before the talks began.

The Senate on Friday adjourned until Tuesday afternoon in a sign that the shutdown would likely not end before then.

Ahead of the meeting, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sought to separate the issue of the wall and government funding and called on Trump and his fellow Republicans in the Senate to reopen agencies as border talks continue.

“The wall and the government shutdown really have nothing to do with each other,” Pelosi, who has rejected any funding for what she has called an “immoral” border wall, said at an event hosted by MSNBC.

About 800,000 federal employees have either been furloughed or are working without pay because of the shutdown.

It is showing signs of straining the country’s immigration system and has been blamed for worsening backlogs in courts and complicating hiring for employers.

Trump continued to promote the wall in tweets to keep the pressure on Democrats on Thursday even as they gained significant power with their takeover of the House at the start of a new Congress.

TRUMP LETTER

Trump sent a letter to all members of Congress on Friday “on the need to secure our borders,” the White House said.

“Absolutely critical to border security and national security is a wall or a physical barrier that prevents entry in the first place,” Trump wrote.

Late on Thursday, the House passed two Democratic bills to immediately reopen government agencies for varying lengths of time, despite a White House veto threat.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, has rejected the House effort saying the president would not sign into law, although the Senate last month approved identical legislation.

“We’re in the same place … Any viable compromise will need to carry the endorsement of the president before it receives a vote in either house of Congress,” McConnell said, speaking on the Senate floor Friday morning.

But he may face pressure from within his caucus from vulnerable Republicans up for re-election in 2020.

“We should pass a continuing resolution to get the government back open. The Senate has done it last Congress, we should do it again today,” U.S. Senator Cory Gardner told The Hill on Thursday.

His colleague Susan Collins also called for the Senate to pass the funding bills, while several other Republicans urged an end to the shutdown, the Hill and New York Times reported.

Pelosi on Friday urged McConnell to bring the measures up for a vote. “The president can sign or not but he should never say, ‘I’m not even going to put it on the president’s desk,'” she told MSNBC, noting Congress can pass bills without Trump’s support.

Legislation can become law with a veto-proof majority of lawmakers’ support or if the president does not sign it or veto it within 10 days.

Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday suggested that in exchange for the wall, the White House could work with Democrats on so-called Dreamer immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children – an idea Trump had rejected.

“It’s being talked about,” Pence told Fox News.

Democrats back other border security measures aside from the wall, and their two-bill package passed Thursday includes $1.3 billion for border fencing and $300 million for other border security items such as technology and cameras.

In a Dec. 11 meeting with Pelosi and Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, Trump said he would be “proud” to shut the government over the security issue and would not blame Democrats. He has since said they are responsible.

A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll last week showed that 50 percent of the public blame Trump for the shutdown and 7 percent blame Republican lawmakers, against 32 percent who blame Democrats.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Susan Cornwell and Lisa Lambert; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Bill Trott)

Trump says U.S. government shutdown to last until agreement on border wall

U.S. President Donald Trump clasps his hands as he holds a video call with U.S. military service members in the Oval Office on Christmas morning in Washington, U.S., December 25, 2018. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday said the partial shutdown of the federal government was going to last until his demand for funds to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border is met.

The U.S. government partially shut down on Saturday, and there is not yet any sign of tangible efforts to reopen agencies closed by a political impasse over Trump’s demand for border wall funds.

“I can’t tell you when the government is going to reopen,” Trump said, speaking after a Christmas Day video conference with U.S. troops serving abroad. “I can tell you it’s not going to reopen until we have a wall, a fence, whatever they’d like to call it. I’ll call it whatever they want, but it’s all the same thing. It’s a barrier from people pouring into the country, from drugs.”

He added: “If you don’t have that (the wall), then we’re just not opening.”

Funding for about a quarter of federal programs – including the departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Agriculture – expired at midnight on Friday. Without a deal to break the impasse, the shutdown is likely to stretch into the new year.

Building the wall was one of Trump’s most frequently repeated campaign promises, but Democrats are vehemently opposed to it.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; writing by Yeganeh Torbati, editing by G Crosse)