The U.S President Donald Trump said that federal workers furloughed in a partial government shutdown support his effort to force Democrats to vote to spend billions of dollars for a wall on the Mexican border.
“They understand what’s happening. They want border security,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday, after he was asked what message he had for workers affected by the shutdown.
Nine of 15 federal departments and dozens of other agencies shut down on Saturday after Trump refused to sign a spending bill that didn’t include money for the border wall, his top campaign promise. Hundreds of thousands of government employees have been put out of work by the dispute or are forced to do their jobs without pay.
“Many of those workers have said to me, communicated, ‘stay out until you get the funding for the wall,”‘ Trump said. “These federal workers want the wall.”
Congress has left Washington until Dec. 27, delaying negotiations to end the shutdown. Trump canceled a scheduled holiday at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
“I can’t tell you when the government’s gonna be open,” he said. “I can tell you it’s not gonna be open until we have a wall, a fence, whatever they’d like to call it.”
“I’d rather not be doing shutdowns. I’ve been at the White House. And I love the White House. But I wasn’t able to be with my family. I thought it would be wrong for me to be with my family,” Trump said. “I just didn’t want to to go down and be there when other people are hurting.”
The White House said first lady Melania Trump and the couple’s young son, Barron, returned from Florida to spend Christmas with the president at the White House.
Trump told reporters “it’s complicated” when asked whether his demand for $5 billion was negotiable. “We have some wall money, but we want the wall money to be increased.”
He also said that “by election time” he hopes to have as many as 550 miles (885 km) of the wall “either renovated or brand new.”
Democrats won a majority in the House of Representatives in November’s midterm elections and will take control of the chamber in January. They have said they’ll swiftly pass legislation to re-open the government, but the party largely opposes construction of a wall.
Asked what he would do if the House passes a bill that doesn’t fund a wall, Trump said “that’s probably presidential harassment, and we know how to handle that,” using a term his allies coined to describe anticipated Democratic investigations of the Trump administration.
“The only way you’re going to do it is to have a physical barrier, meaning a wall. And if you don’t have that, then we’re just not opening,” he said.
“It’s a disgrace what’s happening in our country. But other than that, I wish everybody a very Merry Christmas.”