WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump convened a teleconference Tuesday with more than 800 state and local leaders, reiterating that he will not change his mind on the border wall and asking them to put pressure on their Democratic representatives in Congress to negotiate.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's director of federal affairs Gordon Larsen was among those on the 10-minute call, in which Trump urged participants to pressure Democrats to allocate money for a border wall.
"He does not have plans to back down and will continue on the current shutdown strategy for as long as it takes," Larsen said.
Participants were briefed beforehand that a senior official in the White House administration would be on the call, he said, so it was a surprise when Trump personally came on the line.
"These calls are fairly routine with the administration, but this is the first time I've been on one where the president weighed in," Larsen said.
As the shutdown prepares to enter its 26th day Wednesday, Trump and the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives remain at an impasse over funding for a border wall, or some sort of physical barrier with Mexico to add to fencing that already exists along a portion of the border.
That barrier was a clarion call during Trump's campaign and during the 2016 presidential election that ended with his victory that stunned pollsters and his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have said they will not fund the $5 billion Trump wants for some sort of barrier.
Trump, backed by GOP leadership in the U.S. Senate, said he will not endorse any spending package that doesn't include money for border security, including a wall of some sort.
During Tuesday's brief call, in which Trump did not take questions, Larsen said the president recited statistics about crime on the Southwest border and the need to address the humanitarian crisis.
"There was very little discussion about the shutdown itself. It was focused entirely on the border issue. He wants (people) to weigh in and stay strong and convey their support for the president's strategy and stay united."
Larsen had a meeting in Washington, D.C., Tuesday with Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, but they did not discuss the border wall or shutdown, McAdams spokeswoman Alyson Heyrend said.
McAdams voted in favor of a funding bill Tuesday that would have reopened the government through Feb. 1, but it did not pass.
Utah's newest congressman wants government to reopen and negotiations on the wall to happen after that. He is not opposed to a border wall in some locations, he said.
"We need to protect the border. In some places that probably is a barrier of some kind. In other places it’s probably better technology,” McAdams said Tuesday.
Congress, he said, is having a “very rudimentary” conversation about a wall or no wall when it should be talking about how to safeguard the border. He said he’s willing to make concessions to find common ground.
“Instead of playing checkers, let’s play chess on border security. That’s what we’re not doing right now,” he said. "Let's not have it in the context of a gun to the head of the American people in a shutdown. Let's open the government."27 comments on this story
Even as Utah officials are focused on keeping government functioning at a local level in light of the shutdown, they're watching the fight over the border wall closely because of gang crime and illicit drugs.
"I think that is pretty clear that what happens at the border doesn't just stay there," Larsen said. "It is something that bleeds up into every state. I think the conversation is relevant, not just to border states."
Herbert and the state have not taken an official position on the controversy over the border wall, he said, but the governor is frustrated that lawmakers can't come to a resolution.
Contributing: Ladd Egan