Pence seeks GOP unity, urging lawmakers to 'stand strong' with Trump

On day 18 of the government shutdown, Vice President Pence on Tuesday urged House Republicans to “stand strong” with President TrumpDonald John TrumpDem lawmaker says Electoral College was 'conceived' as way to perpetuate slavery Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals to visit White House on Monday Transportation Dept requests formal audit of Boeing 737 Max certification MORE as he fights for more than $5 billion for his border wall.

“The president is full steam ahead on this. Not that he isn’t willing to negotiate, but he is standing firm,” Pence told rank-and-file Republican lawmakers during a closed-door meeting in the Capitol, according to GOP sources in the room.

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During his roughly 10-minute speech, Pence reiterated why a 30-foot steel barrier is needed to address what he called the “crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Pence, who previously served as House Republican Conference chairman in Congress, didn’t explicitly try to whip Republicans to vote against a series of individual spending bills Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiHistory teaches that Nancy Pelosi is right about impeachment The politics and practicalities of impeachment The Hill's Morning Report - Dems contemplate big election and court reforms MORE (D-Calif.) and the Democrats plan to put on the floor this week to reopen federal agencies.

But the vice president said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 The Hill's Morning Report - Dems contemplate big election and court reforms Court-packing becomes new litmus test on left MORE (R-Ky.) is supportive of Trump and won’t put the piecemeal Democratic spending bills on the Senate floor.

Republicans should “stand strong with the administration,” Pence said, according to a GOP source.

Pence’s visit comes during an anxious moment for the GOP. The partial government shutdown is now well into its third week with no end in sight.

And White House officials are growing worried that a slew of moderate Republicans may break with Trump and align with Pelosi and the newly empowered Democrats when they hold multiple votes to reopen different parts of the government on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Those bills do not include the $5.7 billion that Trump is demanding for his border wall.

After the Pence meeting, Rep. Fred UptonFrederick (Fred) Stephen UptonOvernight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all Dem group launches ads attacking Trump's 'hypocrisy on Medicare and Medicaid cuts' The 25 Republicans who defied Trump on emergency declaration MORE (R-Mich.), a former leader of the centrist Tuesday Group, told reporters he would vote with Democrats this week on bills to reopen federal agencies.

Two moderate GOP members said they expect eight or nine Republicans to cross party lines and vote with Democrats on the individual funding bills. Seven Republicans voted with Democrats last week to support a bill funding most of the currently-closed agencies through the end of the fiscal year, while five backed a stopgap measure to fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8.

One lawmaker said it's likely the number of GOP votes will grow the longer the shutdown drags on. 

"It's going to collapse at some point soon," the source said of GOP leadership's ability to whip members against voting for the Democrat-backed bills to reopen the government.

The special conference meeting, in the basement of the Capitol, was held in advance of Trump’s much-anticipated, prime-time address to the nation on the need for border wall money.

In his speech, Trump is expected to lay out his case for why the border is both a national security and a humanitarian crisis, GOP sources said. But Trump is not expected to use the speech to declare a national emergency — which would allow him to use military construction money to fund the border wall — according to multiple news reports.

In the Tuesday gathering, Pence did not indicate to lawmakers whether Trump would use the address to declare a national emergency. But conservative Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksThe 23 Republicans who voted against the anti-hate resolution House passes anti-hate measure amid Dem tensions Congress just proved there is hope for honest discussion on climate MORE (R-Ala.) said Trump should definitely declare an emergency because “tens of thousands of Americans” are dead due to the porous southern border, citing a combination of murders and drug overdoses.

“This is a national crisis,” Brooks said leaving the meeting, “and I hope the president will be as aggressive as possible to protect American lives — men, women and children who are dead today who would be alive but for our southern border and the conduct of illegal aliens.”

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGOP rep to introduce constitutional amendment to limit Supreme Court seats to 9 Why we need to build gateway now Campaign to draft Democratic challenger to McConnell starts raising funds MORE (D-N.Y.) will give a joint address rebutting Trump’s speech.

Pence was accompanied in the meeting by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenThe Hill's Morning Report - Dems contemplate big election and court reforms Hillicon Valley: Social media faces scrutiny after New Zealand attacks | YouTube removed 'tens of thousands' of shooting videos | DHS chief warns of state-backed cyber threats | House Dems plan April vote on net neutrality Nielsen warns US 'not prepared' for foreign cyberattacks MORE, White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyMulvaney poised to become permanent White House chief of staff: report Pentagon sends Congress list of projects that could lose funds to Trump's emergency declaration Trump: Media 'working overtime to blame me' for New Zealand attack MORE and acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought.

Inside the meeting, Nielsen walked lawmakers through a slideshow presentation — which included a number of statistics — about the border. Vought explained to lawmakers that the administration is doing everything it can within the law to mitigate the negative impacts of the shutdown, including having the IRS send out tax refunds and using park entrance fees to pay for trash pickup at national parks.

Pence later took questions from lawmakers, including Rep. Paul MitchellPaul MitchellIt’s time to shut down all future government shutdowns GOP lawmakers offer several locations for Trump address Dem leaders avert censure vote against Steve King MORE (R-Mich.), who told Pence that the agriculture and manufacturing industries in his state are with Trump and want him to “hold firm” on his wall demands.

Mike Lillis contributed.