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Oval Office clash ups chances of shutdown

Washington took a big step closer to a partial government shutdown on Tuesday as President TrumpDonald John TrumpPennsylvania Supreme Court strikes down GOP bid to stop election certification Biden looks to career officials to restore trust, morale in government agencies Sunday shows preview: US health officials brace for post-holiday COVID-19 surge MORE dug in on his demand for a border wall during a fiery Oval Office meeting with Democratic leaders.

Trump told House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiClub for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Governors take heat for violating their own coronavirus restrictions Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerProtect America's houses of worship in year-end appropriations package Club for Growth to launch ad blitz in Georgia to juice GOP turnout Inequality of student loan debt underscores possible Biden policy shift MORE (D-N.Y.) that he would take the “mantle” of a shutdown to win tougher border security, going so far as to say he wouldn’t blame Democrats if funding lapsed for certain federal agencies.

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The extraordinary public exchange left congressional Democrats with little incentive to compromise, and Senate Democrats subsequently ratcheted back their latest offer, with Schumer saying he no longer supports $1.6 billion for border fencing.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbySpending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight Trump, Pelosi barrel toward final border wall showdown On The Money: Push for student loan forgiveness puts Biden in tight spot | Trump is wild card as shutdown fears grow | Mnuchin asks Fed to return 5 billion in unspent COVID emergency funds MORE (R-Ala.), who met with Trump privately before Thanksgiving, acknowledged on Tuesday that a shutdown now appears more likely.

“I think it’s a step in that direction, obviously, at least with the rhetoric,” he said.

Republicans were stunned by Trump’s remarks and scrambled to rein him in. GOP lawmakers have spent months insisting they don’t want a government shutdown, and they’ve tried to steer Trump away from a scenario like the one unfolding in Washington.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge Biden and reproductive health rights Biden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls MORE (R-Ky.) warned later on Tuesday that a shutdown would be a mistake.

“One thing I think is pretty clear, no matter who precipitates the government shutdown, is the American people don’t like it,” he told reporters. “I hope that will be avoided and both sides understand that’s not a great way to end what has, in my view, been the most successful Congress, right of center, in decades.”

A survey from NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll published Tuesday found that 57 percent of respondents want Trump to compromise on the wall and avoid a shutdown. But 65 percent of Republicans in the poll said Trump should not strike a deal.

Republican lawmakers were frustrated by the fireworks from Trump’s meeting with Democratic leaders, knowing the GOP will now get most of the blame for any shutdown.

Asked if he had seen the exchange on television, Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynCornyn says election outcome 'becoming increasingly clear': report Top GOP senator: Biden should be getting intel briefings GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results MORE (Texas), said, “I did, unfortunately. I wish I didn’t.”

Trump’s threat to shutter federal agencies sent stock markets reeling. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 500 points from its high earlier in the day, but later pared back most of those losses. Spending talks are now expected to drag on into next week, possibly right up until Dec. 21, when funding for 25 percent of the federal government’s discretionary budget is due to expire.

Some Republicans had hoped that legislative business might wrap up by the end of next week so they could take part in previously scheduled congressional delegation trips. But McConnell poured cold water on those aspirations Tuesday, even before the White House meeting with Pelosi and Schumer.

He threatened to keep the Senate working between Christmas and New Year’s, something he said was meant to get people to cooperate.

Tuesday’s meeting at the White House played out as well as Democrats could have hoped. Schumer has argued for weeks that a shutdown would be the president’s fault.

“No president should ever say he would be proud to shut the government down,” Schumer later told reporters, reading a transcript of Trump’s public remarks to the press before the meeting. “If President Trump wants to throw a temper tantrum ahead of the holidays and cause a Trump shutdown, it will be solely on his back.”

At the beginning of the meeting with Schumer and Pelosi, and with television cameras in the room, Trump said, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems and drugs pouring into our country.”

“I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it,” Trump said.

Democrats say those comments have eviscerated the president’s negotiating position.

A Senate Democratic official briefed on the meeting, which included a private portion without reporters or TV cameras, said that even Trump’s senior aides appeared to recognize their weakened position.

White House advisers urged Trump not to immediately pan the Democrats’ offer to pass a yearlong stopgap Homeland Security funding measure that includes $1.3 billion for border fencing, the same amount Congress appropriated for fiscal 2018, according to the source.

Democratic leaders have also offered a yearlong stopgap funding measure for all seven of the unfinished appropriations bills, including for the Department of Homeland Security.

Schumer later told reporters, “We asked him to accept one of those two proposals and he said he would think about it.”

Trump and Pelosi later had a brief phone call, which Pelosi characterized as “constructive.”

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Following the Oval Office meeting, Democrats appeared giddy that Trump had taken ownership of a possible shutdown.

“He has admitted in this meeting that he has responsibility,” Pelosi said. “The Trump shutdown can be avoided.”

According to aides, she later mocked Trump’s fixation with the wall: “It’s like a manhood thing for him. As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”

Senate Appropriations Vice Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump OKs transition; Biden taps Treasury, State experience Durbin seeks to become top-ranking Democrat on Judiciary panel Feinstein to step down as top Democrat on Judiciary Committee MORE (D-Vt.) compared Trump to a child. “It’s almost like a kid there just before Christmas. ‘I want a shutdown! I want a shutdown!’ ” he said. “Nobody else does. But if he wants one, he’ll have one. It’s irresponsible, it’s foolish.”

Ordering the military to build a wall is seen by some as a possible way for Trump to save face, but GOP lawmakers have serious reservations about taking that approach.

Trump tweeted Tuesday morning, before the meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, that he would order the military to build unfinished portions of the border wall if Democrats refuse to meet his demand for $5 billion in wall funding.

“It’s better to go through Congress,” warned Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBiden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden Let's give thanks to Republican defenders of democracy MORE (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a solid Trump ally. “We repurpose money all the time, but you have to get it approved, generally speaking. I think there’ll be an institutional pushback against a unilateral repurposing.”

Democrats took a similar tack, saying Trump does not have the authority to build a wall with defense funds.

“To the extent that he could do so at all, it would be reckless and irresponsible to waste national security resources on a border wall that is nothing more than an in-kind contribution to his reelection campaign,” said Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyProtect America's houses of worship in year-end appropriations package Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight GSA offers to brief Congress next week on presidential transition MORE (D-N.Y.), who is expected to wield the gavel on the House Appropriations Committee starting next month.

At an appropriations hearing this year, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisBiden under pressure to remove Trump transgender military ban quickly Progressive House Democrats urge Biden against Defense chief with contractor ties Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper MORE said that as Pentagon chief he did not have the authority to reallocate funds toward a wall.

The Pentagon said Tuesday there are no plans to build a wall, but noted that some border projects are possible.

“Congress has provided options under Title 10 U.S. Code that could permit the Department of Defense to fund border barrier projects, such as in support of counter drug operations or national emergencies,” Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Jamie Davis said.

Shelby said he wasn’t certain whether the commander in chief had the authority to direct troops to build a wall.

“The president’s got a lot of leeway. Under the Constitution he’s got a right and a duty to defend the nation. So I don’t know, we’d see what he wants to do and how he wants to do it,” he said.

In the House, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyTop Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' Sunday shows preview: Biden transition, COVID-19 spike in spotlight MORE (R-Calif.) told Republicans that votes were unlikely Monday or Tuesday next week, setting up a take-it-or-leave-it option for members in the short window ahead of the Dec. 21 deadline.

House Republicans floated the possibility of bringing a spending package to a floor vote this Friday as a show of support for Trump after he and Pelosi sparred over whether the chamber could pass such a bill.

“There are no votes in the House, a majority of votes, for a wall — no matter where you start,” Pelosi told Trump, referring to GOP moderates and border state representatives inclined to vote against a wall.

Trump shot back that “the House would give me the vote if I wanted it.”

If the two sides don’t reach a funding deal by next Friday, the agencies funded through the seven unpassed appropriations will shut down. Those agencies include the State Department, Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Transportation.

The remaining agencies, like the Pentagon, the legislative branch and the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Education, are funded through Sept. 30 and would continue to operate in the event of a partial shutdown.

Jordan Fabian contributed.