Fauci doesn’t think U.S. will have to go back into “shutdown mode”

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Top U.S. infectious disease official Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday that he doesn’t think the United States will have to go back into “shutdown mode” in order to contain the spread of COVID-19.

“We can do much better without locking down,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at an event hosted by Harvard University. He said Americans should wear masks, keep physically distanced, shut down bars, wash their hands and favor outdoor activities over indoor ones in order to help stop transmission of the virus.

(Reporting by Michael Erman; editing by Diane Craft)

New York police break up massive crowd at rabbi’s funeral that defied virus shutdown

By Nathan Layne and Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York police broke up a massive crowd of ultra-Orthodox Jews who took part in a rabbi’s funeral in defiance of a statewide coronavirus shutdown, and the mayor walked back comments on the gathering that some Jewish leaders called discriminatory.

City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told a news conference on Wednesday that some 12 summonses were issued for a variety of offenses at the Brooklyn gathering on Tuesday night, which he estimated involved “thousands of people crammed onto one block.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio personally oversaw the dispersal of the Hasidic residents in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg section who had gathered late on Tuesday for the funeral of Rabbi Chaim Mertz, who died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

A Jewish congregation had worked with police on a plan to close streets so the funeral could adhere to social-distancing rules, said Mitchell Silber, executive director at the Community Security Initiative, a program to protect Jewish institutions.

Both the rabbi’s congregation and the police were surprised at the number of people who attended, he said.

“This was a single event, planned by one congregation. The troubling incident last night should not negatively reflect on Hasidim, the Williamsburg community, Orthodox Jewry or the entire Jewish community,” Silber told Reuters.

Some Jewish leaders criticized de Blasio, who wrote on Twitter late on Tuesday that he had instructed the city’s police department to “summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups.”

“This is about stopping this disease and saving lives,” the mayor wrote on Twitter. The disease has killed more than 23,000 people in New York state despite stay-at-home orders and a shutdown of schools and businesses.

The criticism was for de Blasio’s having addressed the tweet to “the Jewish community, and all communities.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League noted that New York City is home to more than one million Jews.

“The few who don’t social distance should be called out – but generalizing against the whole population is outrageous especially when so many are scapegoating Jews,” Greenblatt wrote on Twitter.

Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America representing Orthodox rabbis, said he was concerned the comments could encourage anti-Semitism.

“We are very concerned about the mayor’s comment which stigmatizes an entire community for the irresponsible behavior of a small group,” Dratch said in an email to Reuters.

At a news conference with Shea, de Blasio said he regretted the way he expressed concern about the gathering of mourners but that he spoke “out of passion” for the safety of the people of his city, the epicenter of the country’s crisis.

“Again this is a community I love, this is a community I’ve spent a lot of times working with. And if you saw anger and frustration, you’re right,” de Blasio said. “I spoke out of real distress and people’s lives were in danger before my eyes, and I was not going to tolerate that.”

At the news conference, Shea said, “People have to be accountable for their own actions regardless of what neighborhood, ethnicity, where they come from – we cannot have what we had last night.”

David Harris, chief executive of the AJC global Jewish advocacy group, said de Blasio has been a “good friend” of the Jewish community and the Twitter comments that offended many in the community had been out of character.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut and Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Howard Goller)

U.S. coronavirus deaths march higher to over 31,000: Reuters tally

By Lisa Shumaker

(Reuters) – U.S. coronavirus deaths rose above 31,000 on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally, as President Donald Trump prepares to announce guidelines for reopening the economy.

The United States is the world’s worst-affected country with fatalities doubling in just a week and setting a record single-day increase for two days in a row.

The governors of Connecticut, Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania began cautiously preparing Americans for a post-virus life where residents wear face masks as they emerge from isolation in the coming weeks.

The U.S. shutdown has crushed the nation’s economy to levels not seen since the Great Depression nearly a century ago as more than 20 million Americans have sought unemployment benefits amid shuttered stores and restaurants.

U.S. cases totaled over 635,000 and rose by 30,000 on Wednesday, the biggest increase in five days, according to the Reuters tally.

GRAPHIC: Tracking the novel coronavirus in the U.S. https://tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T

(Writing by Lisa Shumaker; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

CDC director says 19-20 U.S. states may be ready to reopen May 1

By Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday he believes 19 or 20 U.S. states have had limited impact from the new coronavirus and their governors believe they may be ready to reopen by President Donald Trump’s May 1 target date.

“There are a number of counties within this country that have not experienced really any coronavirus despite testing,” Robert Redfield said in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“There are a number of states – 19, 20 states – that really have had limited impact from it. So I think we will see some states that are, the governors feel that they’re ready, we’re poised to assist them with that reopening,” Redfield said.

Trump said on Monday evening he was close to completing a plan for ending America’s coronavirus shutdown, which has thrown millions out of work, and may restart the battered U.S. economy in some areas even before May 1. He said around 20 states were “in extremely good shape and could reopen fairly quickly.

The president took renewed aim at the World Health Organization at the briefing, saying he has instructed his administration to halt U.S. funding to the Geneva-based institution over its handling of the pandemic.

Redfield would not directly answer a question about the president’s decision but said the CDC and WHO have had a long history of working together on global health outbreaks.

“We’ve had a very productive public health relationship,” he said. “We continue to have that.”

The CDC and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have put together a public health strategy to reopen parts of the country as part of the larger White House effort get Americans back to work, the Washington Post reported.

The plan cites three phases: A national communication campaign and community readiness assessment through May 1; increased emergency funding and production of testing kits and personal protective equipment through May 15; and staged reopenings depending on local conditions.

The plan said some mitigation measures would have to remain in effect and communities that would only need “low mitigation” efforts are places where the virus never took hold, the Post said.

The document warned: “Models indicate 30-day shelter in place followed by 180 day lifting of all mitigation results in large rebound curve — some level of mitigation will be needed until vaccines or broad community immunity is achieved for recovering communities.”

Redfield said mitigation steps such as people staying physically separated would also likely have to continue until a vaccine and treatments are available.

“I do think we’re going to have some social distancing that’s going to be a critical part of our strategy as we go forward,” he told CBS “This Morning” in an interview.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey; Editing by Alex Richardson and Steve Orlofsky)

China heads into Lunar New Year on shutdown as virus toll hits 26

By Judy Hua and Cate Cadell

BEIJING, China (Reuters) – China shut part of the Great Wall and suspended public transport in 10 cities, stranding millions of people at the start of the Lunar New Year holiday on Friday as authorities rush to contain a virus that has killed 26 people and infected more than 800.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the new coronavirus an “emergency in China” but stopped short of declaring it of international concern.

People line up outside a drugstore to buy masks in Shanghai, China January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

While restrictions on travel and gatherings have already been imposed to curb the outbreak, China will take stricter and more targeted measures, state television reported citing a State Council meeting on Friday, but gave no further details.

“The spread of the virus has not been cut off … Local authorities should take more responsibility and have a stronger sense of urgency,” state broadcaster CCTV said.

The Defence Ministry said it is organizing military medical experts to take part in the fight against the virus, without giving details.

Most of the cases and all of the deaths have been in China, but the virus has also been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal and the United States.

Britain convened an emergency response meeting on Friday.

While health officials have been at pains to say it is too soon to evaluate the severity of the outbreak, the newly identified coronavirus has triggered alarm because it is too early to know how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads.

Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing and coughing. Most of the fatalities have been elderly, many with pre-existing conditions, the WHO said.

As of Thursday, there were 830 confirmed cases and 26 people had died there, China’s National Health Commission said.

WUHAN ISOLATED

Most cases have been in Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated in a market that traded illegally in wildlife. Preliminary research suggested it crossed to humans from snakes.

China has advised people to avoid crowds and 10 cities in the central province of Hubei, where Wuhan is located, have suspended some transport, the Hubei Daily reported.

The week-long celebrations to welcome the Year of the Rat began on Friday, raising fears the infection rate could accelerate as hundreds of millions of people have already traveled to see family at home and abroad.

The city of 11 million people, and neighboring Huanggang, a city of 7 million, were in virtual lockdown. Nearly all flights at Wuhan’s airport had been canceled. Airports worldwide have stepped up the screening of passengers from China.

Checkpoints blocked the main roads leading out of town, and police checked incoming vehicles for wild animals.

About 10 people got off a high-speed train that pulled into Wuhan on Friday afternoon but nobody got on before it resumed its journey. Although it stopped there, Wuhan had been removed from the train’s schedule.

“What choice do I have? It’s Chinese New Year. We have to see our family,” said a man getting off the train who gave his family name Hu.

Some sections of the Great Wall near Beijing will be closed from Saturday, state media said.

Some temples have also closed, including Beijing’s Lama Temple where people make offerings for the new year, have also been closed as has the Forbidden City, the capital’s most famous tourist attraction.

Shanghai Disneyland will close from Saturday. The theme park has a 100,000 daily capacity and sold out during last year’s new year holiday. Film premieres have also been postponed and McDonald’s suspended business in five cities in Hubei province.

In Wuhan, where the outbreak began last month, pharmacies were running out of supplies and hospitals were flooded with nervous resident seeking medical checks.

The city was rushing to build a 1,000-bed hospital for the infected by Monday, the official Changjiang Daily reported.

“There’s so much news, so much data, every 10 minutes there’s an update, it’s frightening, especially for people like us in a severely hit area,” Lily Jin, 30, a resident of the city, told Reuters by phone.

VACCINE QUEST

The WHO said on Thursday it was a “bit too early” to designate the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, which would require countries to step up their response.

Some experts believe the virus is not as dangerous as the one that caused the 2002-03 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which also began in China and killed nearly 800 people, or the one that caused Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which has killed more than 700 people since 2012.

There is no known vaccine or particular treatment yet.

“There is some work being done and there are some trials now for MERS (vaccines). And we may look at some point whether those treatments and vaccines would have some effect on this novel coronavirus,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said on Friday.

Gilead Sciences Inc said it was assessing whether its experimental Ebola treatment could be used. Meanwhile, three research teams were starting work on vaccines, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations said.

The virus is expected to dent China’s growth after months of economic worries over trade tensions with the United States, unnerving foreign companies doing business there.

Shares in luxury goods firms have suffered from the anticipated drop in demand from China, and on Friday French spirits group Remy Cointreau said it was “clearly concerned” about the potential impact.

(Reporting by Roxanne Liu, David Stanway, Martin Pollard, Tony Munroe, Muyu Xu, Engen Tham, Cate Cadell, Judy Hua and Ben Blanchard; Writing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Alison Williams)

Shippers seek alternatives for oil as crews work toward plugging Keystone leak

Oil spilled from a section of the Keystone pipeline is seen in Walsh County, North Dakota, U.S., October 30, 2019. Taylor DeVries/North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality/Handout via REUTERS

Shippers seek alternatives for oil as crews work toward plugging Keystone leak
By Laila Kearney and Rod Nickel

NEW YORK/WINNIPEG (Reuters) – Cleanup crews in Walsh County, North Dakota, are working toward plugging the Keystone pipeline after a more than 9,000-barrel oil leak this week, a state official said Friday, while crude shippers are searching for alternative means of transport.

The shutdown caused by the spill threatens a large amount of regular supply of heavy Canadian crude to the United States. Canada is the biggest foreign provider of oil to the United States, with exports to the U.S. averaging about 3.6 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2018, according to the federal Canada Energy Regulator.

The 590,000-barrel bpd Keystone system, owned by TC Energy Corp, is a key artery for Canadian heavy crude, imported by United States for blending with other oils to be refined into gasoline, diesel and other fuels.

“When something like (a shutdown) happens, it’s all hands on deck for what you do to keep barrels flowing,” Chief Executive Rich Kruger of Exxon-owned Imperial Oil <IMO.TO> said, on a quarterly conference call on Friday. “Not knowing what the situation is, how long it may be offline.”

Imperial, which owns contracted space on Keystone, is looking into shipping alternatives for the short and long term, Kruger said.

TC Energy was not immediately available for comment.

Keystone’s closure has forced TC Energy’s Marketlink pipeline from the Cushing, Oklahoma storage hub to Nederland, Texas, to reduce rates.

About 60 percent of Canada’s U.S. exports go to the Midwest.

The cause of the leak is unknown. The spill, first detected by TC Energy on Tuesday night, occurred near a TC Energy pumping station, and saturated an area about half the size of a football field, the company and state officials said.

Karl Rockeman, director of the North Dakota Division of Water Quality, whose department is overseeing the cleanup, said crews were focused on reaching the leak to prevent “any further oil that may be sitting in the pipeline from being released.”

Clean-up efforts remained focused on vacuuming up oil, before excavating the underground pipe, said Walsh County emergency response manager Brent Nelson.

The leak took place in a rural area close to the small city of Edinburg in the northeastern part of the state. The nearest home is about three-quarters of a mile away, Nelson said.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney and Rod Nickel; Editing by David Gaffen and Steve Orlofsky)

Trump to lawmakers: Don’t waste your time, deal needs wall

U.S. President Donald Trump announces a deal to end the partial government shutdown as he speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With little time to craft a deal over funding security operations on the U.S.-Mexico border, a bipartisan group of lawmakers was to meet in a public work-session on Wednesday even as President Donald Trump maintained a hard line on constructing a massive wall.

Congressional negotiators are up against a Feb. 15 deadline for agreeing on funding through Sept. 30 for several federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and its border operations.

Realistically, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have about a week to settle differences and still give the full House of Representatives and Senate time to debate and vote on any deal.

A 35-day partial shutdown of agencies was triggered on Dec. 22 when Trump refused to sign funding bills that did not contain $5.7 billion for a wall along the southwestern U.S. border.

Faced with steadfast opposition in the Democratic-majority House, Trump relented on Friday, agreeing to re-open federal agencies temporarily without his $5.7 billion request. In return, Congress agreed to a special panel to negotiate a border security deal.

Trump has threatened a resumption of the record-long shutdown if the panel fails to find common ground or produces a plan he does not like.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump warned: “If the committee of Republicans and Democrats now meeting on Border Security is not discussing or contemplating a Wall or Physical Barrier, they are Wasting their time!”

Physical barriers have long been installed on parts of the border to keep out illegal drugs and undocumented immigrants and more are underway.

It was unclear whether Trump, who views the current arrangement as insufficient, would accept a simple continuation of such installations. Building a wall on the U.S. southern border – with Mexico paying for it – was one of Trump’s most often repeated promises during the 2016 presidential campaign. Mexico has refused to pay for a wall.

Democrats, arguing a border wall is ineffective, say they want a mix of security tools: drones, sensors, scanning devices and fences, along with more border patrol agents.

Wednesday’s committee meeting might be the only public session since behind-the-scenes negotiations are the stage for the real bargaining.

The session is expected to mainly allow the seven Senate negotiators and 10 House negotiators an opportunity to make opening statements. The committee is headed by House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, a Democrat, and Republican Richard Shelby, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

With a mix of wall supporters and opponents, it is unclear whether the panel will reach agreement.

Republican Representative Kay Granger was optimistic, telling reporters she and Lowey “have worked together well” over the years.

If Congress denies his request, Trump has threatened to declare a “national emergency” in order to take existing funds appropriated by Congress for other purposes – possibly from the Defense Department, for example – to build his wall.

There is bipartisan opposition in Congress to that plan, which likely would spark legal challenges since the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to appropriate funds and direct their use.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Trott)

Senate plans votes to end shutdown, but solution still far off

A visitor walks by the U.S. Capitol on day 32 of a partial government shutdown as it becomes the longest in U.S. history in Washington, U.S., January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-led U.S. Senate planned votes on Thursday for competing proposals to end the partial government shutdown – both of which were likely to fail – as lawmakers and the White House sniped at each other over how to break their monthlong impasse.

Just hours before the Senate was scheduled to vote, there were signs that lawmakers might consider new ideas for ending the 34-day shutdown, which was triggered by Trump’s demand for money to fund his long-promised wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The shutdown has left hundreds of thousands of government workers furloughed or working without pay.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, told reporters that she was willing to meet face-to-face with Republican President Donald Trump to discuss the issue.

Her comment came one day after she announced that Trump&rsquo;s State of the Union speech in the House chamber, scheduled for Tuesday, would not occur until the shutdown ended, despite the president’s plans to come. Trump, who considered giving the speech at another venue, conceded late on Wednesday and said he would deliver the speech in the House in the “near future.”

Trump wants $5.7 billion for the border barrier, opposed by Democrats, as part of any legislation to fund about a quarter of the federal government.

The longest such shutdown in U.S. history has left 800,000 federal workers, as well as private contractors, without pay and struggling to make ends meet, with the effects on government services and the economy reverberating nationwide.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Thursday urged furloughed federal workers to seek loans to pay their bills while adding in a CNBC interview that he couldn’t understand why they were having trouble getting by.

Pelosi denounced the comments.

“Is this the, ‘Let them eat cake’ kind of attitude or ‘Call your father for money?’ or ‘This is character building for you?'” Pelosi asked at a news conference.

She said she did not understand why Ross would make the comment “as hundreds of thousands of men and women are about to miss a second paycheck tomorrow.”

Trump had a response for Pelosi as well.

“Nancy just said she ‘just doesn’t understand why?’ Very simply, without a Wall it all doesn’t work. Our Country has a chance to greatly reduce Crime, Human Trafficking, Gangs and Drugs. Should have been done for decades. We will not Cave!” he said in a tweet.

VOTES PROCEED

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell planned a vote on Thursday afternoon on a Democratic proposal to fund the government for three weeks that does not include wall funding.

Its prospects looked dim in the Republican-majority Senate, although at least one conservative senator reportedly plans to back it. The Democratic-controlled House has passed similar bills but Trump has rejected legislation that does not include the wall funding.

McConnell has previously said he would not consider legislation that Trump did not support. The fact that he is willing to allow a vote suggests he may be trying to persuade lawmakers of both parties to compromise.

Republican Senator Cory Gardner intends to vote for the bill, the Denver Post said, citing the lawmaker’s spokesman. Gardner’s representatives could not be reached for immediately for comment.

McConnell also planned to hold a vote on a separate bill that includes wall funding and a temporary extension of protections for “Dreamers,” hundreds of thousands of people brought to the United States illegally as children, to reflect an offer Trump made on Saturday.

Democrats have dismissed Trump’s offer, saying they would not negotiate on border security before reopening the government and would not trade a temporary extension of the immigrants’ protections in return for a permanent border wall they have called ineffective, costly and immoral.

McConnell’s calculation may be that if both bills fail, Republicans and Democrats would be convinced to seek a deal.

One possibility emerged on Wednesday when House Democratic leaders floated the idea of giving Trump most or all of the money he seeks for security along the Mexican border but that could not be used to build a wall.

Representative James Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, said Democrats could fulfill Trump’s request for $5.7 billion for border security with technological tools such as drones, X-rays and sensors, as well as more border patrol agents.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll last week found more than half of Americans blamed Trump for the shutdown even as he has sought to shift blame to Democrats after saying last month he would be “proud” to close the government for border security.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell; additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Roberta Rampton; Writing by Jeff Mason; Editing by Bill Trott)

U.S. State Department recalls furloughed employees amid shutdown

People enter the State Department Building in Washington, U.S., January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department said on Thursday it was calling its furloughed employees back to work next week as it takes steps to pay salaries despite a partial shutdown of the government.

“As a national security agency, it is imperative that the Department of State carries out its mission,” Deputy Under Secretary of State Bill Todd said in a statement posted on the department’s website. “We are best positioned to do so with fully staffed embassies, consulates and domestic offices.”

Todd said the department’s employees would be paid on Feb. 14 for work performed beginning on or after this coming Sunday. The department would review its available funds and “legal authorities” beyond the upcoming pay period to try to cover future payments, he said.

“Although most personnel operations can resume, bureaus and posts are expected to adhere to strict budget constraints with regard to new spending for contracts, travel, and other needs” given a lapse in congressionally appropriated funds, Todd added.

About one-quarter of federal agencies have been shuttered since Dec. 22, with Democratic lawmakers refusing to accede to President Donald Trump’s demands to pay for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

Trump is holding out for $5.7 billion for a border wall. Democrats, who took over the U.S. House Representatives this month, have rejected his demands, saying there are cheaper, more effective ways of enhancing border security.

(Reporting by Tim Ahmann; editing by David Alexander and James Dalgleish)

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)