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Trump holds firm on border wall, offers steel option as compromise

US President Donald Trump floats border wall compromise to get funding

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump pledged on Sunday not to bend in his demand for a wall on the border with Mexico but said the barrier could be made of steel instead of concrete as a compromise with Democrats who refuse to fund it.

Mr Trump's comments came at the start of the third week of a partial government shutdown resulting from the dispute that has left hundreds of thousands of federal workers idle or working without pay.

He threatened again, without providing specifics on where the funding would originate, to declare a national emergency as an alternative way to build the wall, depending on the outcome of talks in the coming days.

Democrats have declined to approve the US$5.6 billion (S$7.6b) Mr Trump wants to fulfil a 2016 campaign promise to curb illegal immigration.

Led by new Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has called the wall immoral, Democrats passed a bill in the House of Representatives last week to reopen the government without wall funding.

"This is a very important battle to win from the standpoint of safety, number one, (and) defining our country and who we are," Mr Trump told reporters before leaving for the Camp David presidential retreat.

"The barrier, or the wall, can be of steel instead of concrete, if that helps people. It may be better," he said.

The White House painted the offer, which Mr Trump floated previously, as an olive branch.

Mr Mick Mulvaney, Mr Trump's acting chief of staff, told NBC's"Meet the Press" that agreeing to a steel barrier would allow Democrats to stick to their refusal to fund a wall.

"That should help us move in the right direction," he said.

Vice President Mike Pence led a second round of talks with congressional aides on Sunday about the issue, but Mr Trump said he did not expect those talks to produce results.

He later tweeted that the Pence talks were productive.

But a Democratic aide familiar with the meeting said Democrats urged the White House to pass measures to reopen the government without wall funding and Mr Pence said Mr Trump would not do that. The aide said no progress was made and no further meetings of the group were scheduled.

Democratic US Senator Dick Durbin reacted coolly to Mr Trump's suggestion of declaring a national emergency.

"I don't know what he's basing this on, but he's faced so many lawsuits when he ignores the law and ignores tradition and precedent,"he said on CBS' Face the Nation.

MIDDLE GROUND

Not all Republicans agree with Mr Trump on keeping government shuttered until the border debate is resolved.

"It is not a sign of weakness to try to figure out a middle ground, and I think that both sides need to indicate a willingness to listen and to compromise," US Senator Susan Collins of Maine said on NBC.

She called the debate over using steel versus concrete "bizarre".

House Democrats plan to pass a series of bills this week to reopen government, breaking up legislation they have already approved in a bid to get Republicans to agree to reopen certain agencies, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on "Meet the Press."

"We need to open up government and then negotiate. Not the other way around," he said. - REUTERS

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