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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 TrumpWarren says Republican party 'eating itself and it is discovering that the meal is poisonous' More than 75 Asian, LGBTQ groups oppose anti-Asian crime bill McConnell says he's 'great admirer' of Liz Cheney but mum on her removal 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 PelosiOn The Money: Inflation jumps at fastest pace since 2008 | Biden 'encouraged' on bipartisan infrastructure deal Overnight Health Care: CDC approves Pfizer vaccine for adolescents aged 12-15 | House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill | Panel blasts COVID-19 response Biden 'encouraged' by meeting with congressional leaders on infrastructure 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 McConnellBiden says Beau's assessment of first 100 days would be 'Be who you are' McConnell says he's 'great admirer' of Liz Cheney but mum on her removal McConnell: 'Good chance' of deal with Biden on infrastructure 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 UptonCheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women Overnight Energy: Michigan reps reintroduce measure for national 'forever chemicals' standard |  White House says gas tax won't be part of infrastructure bill Mark Ruffalo joins bipartisan lawmakers in introducing chemical regulation bill 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 BrooksRepublicans embrace Trump in effort to reclaim Senate Democrats warn Waters censure move opens floodgates Conservative House members call on Senate to oppose ATF nominee 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 SchumerChuck SchumerBiden 'encouraged' by meeting with congressional leaders on infrastructure Republicans welcome the chance to work with Democrats on a bipartisan infrastructure bill Cheney sideshow distracts from important battle over Democrats' partisan voting bill 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 NielsenLeft-leaning group to track which companies hire former top Trump aides Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' House Republican condemns anti-Trump celebrities during impeachment hearing MORE, White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyHeadhunters having hard time finding jobs for former Trump officials: report Trump holdovers are denying Social Security benefits to the hardest working Americans Mulvaney calls Trump's comments on Capitol riot 'manifestly false' 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 MitchellUnnamed law enforcement banned under the new NDAA Growing number of House Republicans warm to proxy voting Juan Williams: The GOP's betrayal of America 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.