On Christmas, Trump vows to keep the federal government shut down until he gets border wall funding

President Donald Trump greets members of the five branches of the military by video conference on Christmas Day, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2018, in the Oval Office of the White House. The military members were stationed in Guam, Qatar, Alaska, and two groups in Bahrain. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Washington • President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he intends to keep the federal government closed until he secures the desired funding from Congress for his promised border wall and claimed that “many” federal workers have urged him to continue the shutdown because they support building a wall.

In an Oval Office appearance on Christmas morning, Trump defended his plan to construct a wall along the border with Mexico that he insisted only an Olympic athlete would be able to scale.

About 25 percent of the government is shut down for the fourth straight day with Congress at a stalemate over Trump’s demand for $5 billion in wall construction money.

"I can't tell you when the government is going to reopen," he said. "I can tell you it's not going to be open until we have a wall, a fence, whatever they'd like to call it. I'll call it whatever they want. But it's all the same thing. It's a barrier from people pouring into our country."

He added, "If you don't have that, then we're just not opening."

Trump made his comments to reporters during a Christmas photo sessions in the Oval Office, where he spoke by video teleconference with service members from all five branches of the armed forces who are stationed in Alaska, Bahrain, Guam and Qatar.

All told, about 800,000 of 2.1 million federal workers nationwide — or more than a third — are estimated to be affected in some way by the shutdown. Trump claimed that many of them support the shutdown.

“Many of those workers have said to me, communicated — stay out until you get the funding for the wall,” Trump said. “These federal workers want the wall.”

But his claim conflicts with the accounts of federal workers' union leaders.

"Federal employees should not have to pay the personal price for all of this dysfunction," said Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 members at 33 federal agencies and departments. "This shutdown is a travesty. Congress and the White House have not done their fundamental jobs of keeping the government open."

In a survey of 1,500 union members, about 85 percent said they have limited holiday season spending or are planning to do so because of uncertainty about income, Reardon said on Christmas Eve. He said they include one who said "I have recently lost my wife and now . . .. I have to put off buying her headstone. Breaks my heart."

Another responded, "I can't buy any Christmas presents and am considering returning those I already have. Mortgage companies and utility companies won't wait to get paid," according to Reardon.

Again on Tuesday, Trump tried to place blame for Washington's budget stalemate solely on Democrats, portraying their leaders as disingenuous and claiming that they support the notion of a physical barrier along the border and object to building the wall only because it is Trump's idea.

Trump likened the situation to his May 2017 firing of James Comey as FBI director, saying "Democrats hated him" until he was fired and then Comey was treated as a hero.

Even as he vowed to keep the government closed to secure wall funding, Trump claimed that much of his envisioned wall was already being built. He said he had awarded a contract "at a great price" for a 115-mile section of wall in Texas and plans to visit the site in January for "a ground-breaking" ceremony.

Administration officials have provided no details about this construction project or the terms of the contract.

Trump said he hopes to have all portions of the wall completed — either old fencing renovated or new construction — by Election Day 2020, an indication that he sees building the wall chiefly as a political issue tied to his reelection chances.

Trump said Tuesday that the wall as he envisions it would be a fortress that no normal human could breach.

“Now there may be the case of an Olympic champion who can get over the wall, but for the most part you are not able to do it,” he said. “Very high. It’s gonna be 30 feet. Much of it is 30 feet high. Some if it’s low. But in some areas we have it as high as 30 feet. That’s like a three-story building.”