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Trump Meets With Top Democrats Over Government Shutdown Stalemate

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The partial government shutdown is nearing the end of its second week. And in an effort to keep it from stretching into a third week, President Trump met with congressional leaders for about two hours today. In that meeting in the White House Situation Room, the president threatened to keep parts of the government shuttered for up to a year if necessary to get the funding he wants for a border wall, though the president said he hoped to have a resolution much sooner.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm not saying it was an easy meeting or even a kind meeting or a nice meeting. But in the end, I think we've come a long way. We're going to be working very hard over the weekend, and we'll see if we can do something.

KELLY: Democratic leaders, meanwhile, sounded less optimistic. The ongoing tug of war overshadowed what could have been a day of celebration for the White House, with the news that the U.S. economy added more than 300,000 jobs last month. NPR's Scott Horsley joins us now from the White House. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So unlike some earlier meetings that we've been watching between the president and congressional leaders, this one was behind closed doors. Do we actually know what happened, what they talked about?

HORSLEY: You heard that rosy assessment from the president. He called it a very productive meeting and said they've agreed to continue talks over the weekend. Democrats sounded a little less positive about the prospects for a quick resolution. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described today's session as sometimes contentious. And she and her fellow Democrats all say it's hard to see a path to compromise unless and until the government is fully reopened.

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NANCY PELOSI: Services are being withheld from the American people. Paychecks are being held - withheld from people who serve the needs of the American people. And our border security will suffer if we do not resolve this issue.

HORSLEY: Pelosi stressed that Democrats share the president's concern with border security. They just don't believe that a multibillion-dollar barrier made of steel or concrete is the way to achieve that.

KELLY: And they can't even agree what you call it, whether it's a fence or a wall or a barrier or what. Meanwhile, what is the president saying to make his case?

HORSLEY: He's trying to paint a really scary picture. He's talking about drugs, about criminals, even about suspected terrorists. What he hasn't really done is to connect the dots of how his proposed wall would actually address those threats. Most of the illicit drugs coming into the U.S. from Mexico, for example, actually come through legal ports of entry, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, not the badlands where a wall would maybe stop them.

And while the administration keeps talking about some kind of security crisis, we've actually seen a drop in illegal crossings last fiscal year compared to 2014 and 2016. What we have seen is an increase, Mary Louise, in families coming across from Central America. And they are more challenging to deport. But they're mostly turning themselves into border agents. They're not trying to flee apprehension. So again, it's not clear what a wall would do to stop that.

KELLY: It sounds as though they're not exactly on the verge of a breakthrough, Scott. Although, we did maybe get a little bit of a hint of what the president might be prepared to do if Democrats won't budge.

HORSLEY: Right. You know, the president toggles back and forth between saying he has to have five-plus billion dollars to build the wall and then, in other moments, saying, oh, the wall's well under construction already. So part of the negotiations this weekend might be about trying to find a face-saving way for the president to declare victory and then reopen the government. He also suggested he might use his executive authority to divert money from military accounts.

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TRUMP: We could call a national emergency and build it very quickly, and that's another way of doing it. But if we can do it through a negotiated process, we're giving that a shot.

HORSLEY: That would likely invite legal challenges, though, and probably involve just a small section of border.

KELLY: NPR's Scott Horsley at the White House. Thanks very much, Scott.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.