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 TrumpTrump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Trump cites tax cuts over judges as having biggest impact of his presidency Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment 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 PelosiOcasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment GOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown 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 nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown GOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown Jon Stewart slams McConnell over 9/11 victim fund 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 UptonHouse passes bill to protect 'Dreamers' Thirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill Overnight Health Care: Lawmakers get deal to advance long-stalled drug pricing bill | House votes to condemn Trump's anti-ObamaCare push | Eight House Republicans join with Dems | Trump officials approve Medicaid expansion in Maine 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 Brooks58 GOP lawmakers vote against disaster aid bill GOP candidate expects Roy Moore to announce Senate bid in June GOP leaders dead set against Roy Moore in Alabama 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 SchumerElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw US women's soccer team reignites equal pay push 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 NielsenElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Five memorable moments from Sarah Sanders at the White House MORE, White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyJohn (Mick) Michael MulvaneyTrump asks Mulvaney to leave room during ABC interview due to coughing Trump asks Mulvaney to leave room during ABC interview due to coughing GOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown 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 MitchellLawmakers say improving transparency in higher education offers chance for bipartisanship Dem lawmaker calls bipartisan College Transparency Act a 'game changer' for higher education The Hill's Morning Report - Lawmakers split over Mueller findings: 'case closed' vs. 'cover-up' 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.