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Trump sees 'less than 50-50' chance of border deal by deadline

President Donald Trump walks to the White House Rose Garden to announce the plan to end the partial government shutdown. Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford.

The committee of lawmakers crafting a plan for the southern U.S. border is expected to start meeting this week, even as a defiant President Donald Trump made clear he won't take no for an answer in his effort to construct a border wall.

"Does anybody really think I won't build the WALL?" Trump said late Sunday in a tweet that ran through what he termed more success in two years than any other president. Trump's acting chief of staff said earlier that Trump was prepared to shutter the government again or declare an emergency if needed to get the wall money.

The first formal meeting of the Homeland Security Appropriations House-Senate conference committee will be on Wednesday, according to a senior Democratic aide. The committee was created on Friday after a deal was struck to end a record 35-day partial government shutdown.

While Trump doesn't want to close the government or declare an emergency to secure the funding he wants for a border wall, he's prepared to do it if he and congressional leaders can't strike a deal, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said Sunday.

"He's willing to do whatever it takes to secure the border," Mulvaney said on CBS's "Face the Nation," one of two appearances on Sunday talk shows. "What he wants to do is fix this the way that things are supposed to get fixed with our government, which is through legislation."

Mulvaney said on "Fox News Sunday" that Trump will insist on a "wall where we need it the most and where we need it the quickest" that isn't "a 2,000 mile sea-to-shining-sea wall." He didn't say whether the president would take less than the $5.7 billion he's been demanding in order to ink a deal.

Trump agreed on Friday to reopen the government after the partial shutdown that began Dec. 22 when he and congressional Democrats deadlocked on the president's demands. Trump accepted a deal to continue funding for the shuttered departments -- without money for a wall -- until Feb. 15 to allow for bipartisan negotiations on a border-security plan.

Trump was criticized by immigration hard-liners for Friday's move, and is likely to face more pushback if he comes up empty-handed again on wall funding.

Mulvaney traveled to the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland over the weekend to work on immigration and border issues, according to three people with knowledge of the matter. But a leadership aide said Sunday there haven't been negotiations yet on border security, and Democratic leaders aren't budging so far in opposing money for a wall.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Friday that they're confident an accord can be reached. While they continued to insist there will be no funding for a border "wall," they pointed to bipartisan support for border security and the potential for funding other areas of immigration enforcement in a compromise.

Democrats are willing to invest in additional infrastructure at the border and other security measures but have concluded that spending billions of dollars on a "medieval" border wall would be a waste of taxpayer money, Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Sunday.

"That's a fifth-century solution to a 21st-century problem," Jeffries said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "What we want to support over the next few weeks is 21st-century border security."

Republican Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota, one of the members of the conference committee, will "work to ensure that the package supports the priorities laid out by the border security professionals, including funding for a barrier, technology and additional personnel to secure the border," his office said in an emailed statement.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested that a deal combining money for a border wall and protecting so-called Dreamers -- young, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children -- should be pursued.

"They're both big issues, solve them right now,'' McCarthy said Sunday on NBC.

Trump had previously proposed temporary protections for Dreamers and other immigrants in return for wall money, but Democratic leaders wanted something permanent and rejected it as long as government was shut down.

Coming off a bruising month in which a majority of Americans blamed Trump and Republican lawmakers for the shutdown, GOP lawmakers seemed anxious to avoid a rerun.

Democrats have supported wall funding in the past and what Trump wants is not unreasonable, but shutting down the government or declaring an emergency isn't the way to get it, said Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

"It's important to separate the tactics from the goal and the policy aim," he said on CNN's "State of the Union."

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said that "absolutely nothing" was accomplished by the government shutdown and that it shouldn't be used in future to achieve policy goals.

"I don't know how any member of the administration or of Congress could think that a shutdown was a worthy pursuit," Collins said on CBS. "It never is."

Going further, Senator Lamar Alexander equated shutdowns with using chemical weapons as a tactic that should never to be used.

The Tennessee Republican, who sits on the appropriations committee, said on Fox News's "Sunday Morning Futures" that the conference committee should work toward a compromise while checking with the White House to make sure Trump would sign the final deal.

Both Pelosi and Trump should "step back" from the negotiations, he added. Alexander said conference members would consider funding levels for barriers, technology and personnel that lawmakers had previously approved.

On Sunday, Trump tweeted about allegations of voter fraud in Texas, the cost of illegal immigration and his new slogan, "build a wall and crime will fall."

Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the conference committee, said on Fox that he thinks Trump's learned from the shutdown that affected 800,000 federal workers, contributed to a drop in the president's approval rating in some polls, and may knock U.S. quarterly growth down to zero.

A sizable majority of Americans also think the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken before the shutdown ended.

"My guess is that after 35 days of this, the president also thinks shutdowns are not such great politics," Blunt said.

This article was written by Daniel Flatley, Ben Brody and Bill Allison, reporters for The Washington Post.

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