- The Washington Times - Monday, December 31, 2018

President Trump rang in the new year Monday night in an unfamiliar holiday spot — the White House, where he has been holed up waiting in vain for congressional Democrats to make a deal to end the partial government shutdown.

“I’m in the Oval Office,” the president tweeted Monday. “Democrats, come back from vacation now and give us the votes necessary for Border Security, including the Wall.”

Over 11 days without legislative action in Washington, the president has threatened to close all border crossings with Mexico, complained about obstructionist Democrats shutting down the government and blocking his nominees, lamented the habit of foreign leaders taking advantage of the U.S., and offered shifting descriptions of the border barrier he seeks. He has engaged in his favorite pastimes of blasting the “fake news” media and special counsel Robert Mueller’s “witch hunt.”

The president said Democratic leaders “could’ve come over anytime” to negotiate with him.

“I spent Christmas in the White House, I spent New Year’s Eve now in the White House,” Mr. Trump told Fox News on Monday. “A lot of people are looking to get their paycheck, so I’m ready to go whenever they want. We are not giving up. We have to have border security and the wall is a big part of border security — the biggest part.”

The president’s tweets prompted former CIA Director John O. Brennan, a fierce critic, to fire back at Mr. Trump on Monday: “We have had enough of your whining from the White House. We need an actual leader — our Nation’s future is at stake.”

Both the House and Senate gaveled in for brief pro forma sessions Monday but conducted no business.

There has been no substantive movement from either side for more than a week. That’s when Mr. Trump said he would retreat on his $5 billion demand.

Democrats on Monday said once they take control of the chamber on Thursday they will try to pass six bills to fund most of the closed parts of government through the end of fiscal 2019, coupled with a stopgap bill through Feb. 8 for the Department of Homeland Security.

That would include some money for border fencing, at an annualized rate of $1.3 billion. Their goal, they said, is to separate Mr. Trump’s border demands from the shutdown fight — and they pointed out that Senate Republicans have already supported a Feb. 8 bill.

“It would be the height of irresponsibility and political cynicism for Senate Republicans to now reject the same legislation they have already supported,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, poised to become House speaker, and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer.

The plan already has been rejected in principle by the White House and Senate GOP leaders — though it did amount to some action after 10 days of silence.

The relative tedium of the shutdown has left the White House press corps to report on issues such as whether Mr. Trump was truly in the Oval Office at 10:37 a.m. Monday, when the president tweeted he was there working. Reporters noted there was no Marine guarding the entrance to the West Wing, a signal that the president wasn’t there.

That prompted White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley to report — two hours later — that he had just checked the Oval Office and Mr. Trump “was in fact sitting behind the Resolute Desk working.”

Mr. Gidley chided journalist Brian Karem on Twitter, “So, now I’m just waiting for you and the rest of your ilk to either stop jumping to false conclusions, correct the record, or, here’s a thought, call the press team to ask.”

The White House declared a “lid” on news about the president at 3 p.m. Monday, meaning the president would be staying in for New Year’s Eve, not even traveling a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Trump International Hotel. The move also likely gave the night off to some White House staffers who weren’t affected by the shutdown.

Mr. Trump traditionally celebrates New Year’s Eve and Christmas at his exclusive Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida. He had planned to leave Washington Dec. 21 for the gilded private resort that he calls “the Southern White House,” to mingle with friends and family over 17 days and no doubt enjoy many rounds of golf at his own course.

Then the shutdown started over Democrats’ refusal to fund Mr. Trump’s border wall demand. The president decided to stay in Washington to demonstrate his desire to get a deal on border security and, perhaps, to avoid the optics of vacationing in sunny splendor while about 800,000 federal workers were being furloughed. (Mrs. Pelosi reportedly took a trip to Hawaii, although her spokesman said she was in her home base of San Francisco.)

Mr. Trump did leave Washington once, departing just after midnight on Christmas for a 30-hour whirlwind trip with first lady Melania Trump to visit U.S. troops in Iraq and Germany. The excursion had been planned secretly for weeks.

Aside from that trip, the president has held occasional meetings with Republican lawmakers, spoken on the phone with foreign leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping, and tweeted repeatedly to remind Democrats that he was available for negotiations.

“I am in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come on over and make a deal on Border Security,” Mr. Trump tweeted Saturday. “From what I hear, they are spending so much time on Presidential Harassment that they have little time left for things like stopping crime and our military!”

The president also signed 13 relatively minor bills into law Monday, including a measure that requires DHS to develop a strategy improve emergency responses to the threat of vehicular terrorism.

As the shutdown has dragged on, the president’s demands and descriptions for a border barrier have shifted. He has gone from calling it a “wall” to a “steel slat barrier” (tweeting a diagram of a tall fence with pointed tips) and back to a “concrete wall.”

“An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED, as has been reported by the media,” Mr. Trump tweeted Monday. “Some areas will be all concrete but the experts at Border Patrol prefer a Wall that is see through (thereby making it possible to see what is happening on both sides). Makes sense to me!”

He was apparently referring to an interview that departing White House chief of staff John F. Kelly gave to The Los Angeles Times last weekend.

“To be honest, it’s not a wall,” said Mr. Kelly, former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. “The president still says ‘wall’ — oftentimes frankly he’ll say ‘barrier’ or ‘fencing,’ now he’s tended toward steel slats. But we left a solid concrete wall early on in the administration, when we asked people what they needed and where they needed it.”

The White House initially requested $5 billion for a border barrier, but reportedly dropped that demand to $2.5 billion in the last face-to-face negotiations with congressional leaders Dec. 22. Democrats didn’t make a counteroffer and left town as thousands of federal workers stopped getting paid.

The president also has been reconsidering his decision to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria before his State of the Union address on Jan. 22, according to Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who had lunch with Mr. Trump at the White House on Sunday. Mr. Graham said the president “reassured” him that he would make sure the withdrawal wouldn’t allow the Islamic State to regain strength or Iran to exert more influence in Syria.

On Monday, however, the president seemed more intent on fulfilling a campaign promise to disengage from “never-ending wars” abroad.

“If anybody but Donald Trump did what I did in Syria, which was an ISIS loaded mess when I became President, they would be a national hero,” the president tweeted. “ISIS is mostly gone, we’re slowly sending our troops back home to be with their families, while at the same time fighting ISIS remnants.”

Mr. Trump said he “campaigned on getting out of Syria and other places.”

“Now when I start getting out the Fake News Media, or some failed Generals who were unable to do the job before I arrived, like to complain about me & my tactics, which are working. Just doing what I said I was going to do!”

• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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