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A looming shutdown deadline hasn’t changed the central conflict: the wall

Trump is as dug in as ever.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Holds Her Weekly Press Conference At The Capitol
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi answers questions during her weekly press conference on January 31, 2019, in Washington, DC. 
Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Donald Trump appears keen to kill any border security compromise before it even gets off the ground.

On Thursday, he insisted that any deal on border security would have to include funding for a “wall,” and not just “physical barriers,” digging in his heels mere hours after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that wall money in a final agreement was a nonstarter.

Shifting the labels and framing of a border barrier had previously been seen as a possible opening for negotiations, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) even telling reporters that a final agreement doesn’t necessarily need to include the word “wall.” During an opening meeting for the House and Senate conference committee that’s been tasked with working out a deal, lawmakers broadly shied away from using the term at all.

That approach doesn’t seem to sit well with Trump, however.

While the president has previously said he’d be content with a “wall or physical barrier,” he’s seemingly redoubled his commitment solely to a “wall.” And that’s the main thing that Democrats say they absolutely can’t accept, even as they’ve signaled some openness to other physical barriers.

“There’s not going to be any wall money in the legislation,” Pelosi said Thursday. “Many places on the border have cliffs, there’s a river, and there’s 600 miles of something; 300 of them are Normandy fence. If the president wants to call that a wall, he can call that a wall. Normandy fencing would work. Let them have that discussion.”

During a press event later the same day, Trump vehemently pushed back against this suggestion.

When a reporter asked Trump if he’d be open to allocating funds to “physical barriers” instead of a “wall,” his answer was a resounding “no.”

“If there’s no wall, it doesn’t work,” he said, in a comment that echoed one of his Thursday morning tweets. “She’s just playing games.”

Trump and Pelosi’s respective stances underscore the challenge that congressional negotiators, who must find a deal before a looming February 15 shutdown deadline, continue to face.

At its core, the shutdown fight has always been over a border wall, and someone will have to cave if the government is going to stay open.