Donald Trump has warned he could still declare a national emergency as the now 19-day government shutdown over border wall funding rips the US government apart.
The President called talks with Democrats on Wednesday afternoon local time a “total waste of time”, the day after his Oval Office address did nothing to move the country towards a resolution.
Speaking to reporters about the tense meeting, Senator Chuck Schumer said Mr Trump stormed out following disagreements about the border wall.
“He said, ‘If I open up the government you won’t do what I want,’” said Mr Schumer. “That’s cruel, that’s callous, and that’s using millions of innocent people as pawns.
“A few minutes later, he sort of slammed the table, and when Leader Pelosi said she didn’t agree with the wall, he just walked out and said we have nothing to discuss. He said it was a waste of his time.”
Vice President Mike Pence denied Mr Schumer’s claims, saying Mr Trump never raised his voice or slammed his hand on the table.
In a national emergency, Mr Trump should be able to draft in defence department resources to build the wall, but this is likely to face a major court challenge.
Before leaving the White House for Capitol Hill, the President told reporters that if Congress would not agree to his demand for $5.7 billion ($A8 billion) border wall funding, “we’ll go about it in a different manner”.
He said he had the “absolute right to do a national emergency if I want”, and that his threshold “will be if I can’t make a deal with people that are unreasonable.”
The Democrats are only willing to provide $US1.3 billion for border security, including fencing and surveillance, and called the wall “immoral” and unnecessary.
Asked how long he was willing to let the shutdown continue, Mr Trump replied: “Whatever it takes.”
The partial government shutdown is creating deep divisions in an already ruptured Congress, with some Republicans ready to vote against Mr Trump on the border wall.
Democrats in the House of Representatives — where the party has the majority — will introduce a vote on a series of bills to reopen key parts of the government this afternoon.
But they will need to gain support from the GOP-majority Senate.
Mr Trump emerged from a lunchtime meeting with GOP politicians saying: “The Republicans are totally unified … There was no discussion of anything other than solidarity.”
He then headed to a third round of negotiations with Democrats, but described the talks as “a total waste of time” as they broke down yet again.
But their actions suggested Mr Trump’s claim the party was “very, very united” was not entirely accurate.
Republican senators Cory Gardner and Susan Collins, up for re-election in 2020 in the knife-edge states of Colorado and Maine respectively, have called for votes to end the shutdown.
Seven GOP members of Congress crossed the floor to vote last week and even more may support Democrat bills on Wednesday afternoon to reopen the Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service and other agencies.
“We expect that with each passing day, additional Republicans in the House, as well as Senate Republicans, will publicly express their objection to keeping the government shut down,” Democrats conference chairman Hakeem Jeffries told the Washington Post. “We expect that the number will cross into double figures today and as the week proceeds.”
Republican senator Lisa Murkowski told reporters on Tuesday she supported the Democrat-proposed solution of passing a stopgap agreement on border security and a longer-term package to fund the rest of the government until September.
On Wednesday, the Alaskan senator said she had warned senate majority leader Mitch McConnell last month of her concerns over the shutdown but had wanted to leave time for negotiations.
She said there was now “a greater sense of urgency about where we are, and so you heard me express my concerns”, adding that she would discuss these with the President in the afternoon.
Republican senator Shelley Moore Capito, chair of the appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security, told The New York Times on Tuesday she could potentially support a stopgap solution amid mounting pressure from federal employees and voters in West Virginia. “I’ve expressed more than a few times the frustrations with a government shutdown and how useless it is, so that pressure’s going to build,” she said.
Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican retiring next year, said shutdowns “never work” and turn government workers into “pawns”, adding that “we’re getting pretty close” to needing an intervention.
Trump aides have been privately urging GOP politicians to hold the line on Mr Trump’s demand any legislation to reopen government include money for the wall, even as the shutdown becomes more painful for their constituents, the Post reported.
Mr McConnell has said he will not put up any bill to reopen the government without knowing it has Mr Trump’s support, but is coming under increased pressure as the shutdown wears on.
“We’re all behind the president,” he said as he left Wednesday afternoon’s meeting.
Earlier, he told the Senate the blame lay with Democrats, saying: “I cannot urge my Democratic colleagues more strongly to get past this purely partisan spite, rediscover their own past positions on border security, and negotiate a fair solution with our President to secure our nation and reopen all of the federal government.”