WASHINGTON — No one budged at President Donald Trump's closed-door meeting with congressional leaders Wednesday, so the partial government shutdown persisted through Day 12 over his demand for billions of dollars to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. They'll all try again Friday.
In public, Trump renewed his dire warnings of rapists and others at the border. But when pressed in private by Democrats asking why he wouldn't end the shutdown, he responded at one point, "I would look foolish if I did that." A White House official, one of two people who described that exchange only on condition of anonymity, said the president had been trying to explain that it would be foolish not to pay for border security.
In one big shift, the new Congress will convene today with Democrats taking majority control of the House, and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said they'd quickly pass legislation to re-open the government — without funds for the border wall.
"Nothing for the wall," Pelosi said in an interview with NBC's "Today" show set to air today. "We can go through the back and forth. No. How many more times can we say no?"
But the White House has rejected the Democratic package, and Republicans who control the Senate are hesitant to take it up without Trump on board. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it a "total nonstarter." Trump said ahead of his White House session with the congressional leaders that the partial shutdown will last "as long as it takes" to get the funding he wants.
"Could be a long time or could be quickly," Trump said during lengthy public comments at a Cabinet meeting, his first public appearance of the new year. Meanwhile, the shutdown dragged through a second week, closing some parks and leaving hundreds of thousands of federal employees without pay.
Democrats said they asked Trump directly during Wednesday's private meeting why he wouldn't consider their package of bills. One measure would open most of the shuttered government departments at funding levels already agreed to by all sides. The other would provide temporary funding for Homeland Security, through Feb. 8, allowing talks to continue over border security.
"I said, Mr. President, Give me one good reason why you should continue your shutdown," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said afterward. "He could not give a good answer."
Trump's response about looking foolish was confirmed by a White House official and another person familiar with the exchange, neither of whom was authorized to describe the exchange by name. Trump campaigned saying Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico refused.
At another point Wednesday, Trump told Pelosi that, as a "good Catholic" she should support the wall because Vatican City has a wall, according to a congressional aide. Trump has mentioned the Vatican's centuries-old fortifications before, including at the earlier Cabinet meeting. But Democrats said they don't want medieval barriers, and Pelosi has called Trump's proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border immoral.
"I remain ready and willing to work with Democrats," Trump tweeted after the meeting. "Let's get it done!"
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said that there's no need to prolong the shutdown and that he was disappointed the talks did not produce a resolution. He complained that Democrats interrupted Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen as she was trying to describe a dreadful situation at the border.
Nielsen, participating in the meeting by teleconference, had data about unaccompanied minors crossing the border and a spike in illegal crossings, and she tried to make the case to the group that current funding levels won't suffice, according to the White House.
"We were hopeful that we could get more of a negotiation," said McCarthy.
He said the leaders plan to return to the White House Friday to continue negotiations. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Fox that Pelosi will be "more able to negotiate" once she is elected speaker, as expected today.
The two sides traded offers, but their talks broke down ahead of the holidays. On Wednesday, Trump also rejected his own administration's offer to accept $2.5 billion for the wall. That proposal was made when Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials met at the start of the shutdown with Schumer, who left saying they remained far apart. On Wednesday Trump repeatedly pushed for the $5.6 billion he has demanded.
The partial government shutdown began on Dec. 22. Funding for the wall has been the sticking point in passing essential spending bills for several government departments.
SIOUX CITY -- As Keith Radig, who was selected Wednesday as the Woodbury County Board of Supervisors chairman, moved to lead the meeting, he noticed the gavel, the instrument that visually demonstrates the heft of the position.
"There is always that urge to slam it down," Radig said.
Radig, 39, a former Sioux City councilman, will assume the board chairmanship for the first time in 2019. He was elected to the board in 2016 and served as vice chairman last year.
The 2018 chairman, Supervisor Rocky De Witt, a Republican from Lawton, did not seek the post for another year.
The board voted 5-0 to appoint Radig as chairman in a brief action. Radig was nominated by De Witt, and the motion was seconded by Jeremy Taylor. Radig was immediately approved in a vote without any comments about his qualifications, which led Supervisor Matthew Ung to later say he was disappointed with the process. Ung said Radig should air his reasons for wanting to be chairman, which Radig then did.
Radig, who frequently throws out quips in board meetings, began with, "I know you may be fearing the impending jokes over the year."
Radig followed that by saying he plans to make sure there is a long-term outlook on facilities and to work with department heads so duties run smoothly. He added that he may work on "quality of life" initiatives to draw people to the county, including a kayak trail down the Little Sioux River that was discussed a few years ago, plus perhaps a county park that allows all-terrain vehicles.
Those discussions unfolded during board's first meeting of the new year.
Republican supervisors Taylor and Ung, who won re-election in the Nov. 6 election, also took the oath of office for their second, four-year terms. Also sworn in to new four-year terms, running through 2022, were county Attorney P.J. Jennings, a Democrat from Sergeant Bluff, and county Auditor Mike Clayton, a Republican from Salix.
Since 2008, no board chairman has served more than a one consecutive year, with members of the majority party agreeing to take turns holding the post. Following Wednesday's vote, Marty Pottebaum, a Democrat from Sioux City, is the only current supervisor who has not been chairman.
By a 4-1 vote, the supervisors last year denied a bid by Ung, the 2017 board chairman, to remain in that post for a second year. At the time, Ung urged his colleagues to drop the "attachment" to "always" rotate the leadership position.
Taylor, the 2016 board chairman, was elected as vice chair on Wednesday.
In Woodbury County, the board chair is paid $40,554 annually, compared to $34,063 for the other four supervisors. In addition to presiding over the weekly meetings on Tuesdays, the chair also typically holds more power on the direction of county government and priorities.
The meeting also included the first look at proposed county departments as the supervisors begin two solid months of weekly meetings toward setting the 2019-20 fiscal year budget.
County Finance Director Dennis Butler said the first draft of the budget, in piecing together all the asked budgets by county department heads, totals $56.9 million. That is $2.3 million more than the current fiscal year budget.
If no changes are made, the county property tax rate would rise from the current year. Butler's projection showed the tax rates at $7.57 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for city residents and $10.00 per $1,000 for rural residents.
The tax rates in the current year are $7.29 per $1,000 for city residents and $9.53 per $1,000 for rural residents.
One important element in the budget is the amount going to mental health services for low-income and other people. The county is moving from one multi-county agency to another on July 1 in the next fiscal year, and Butler said the proposal has the mental health fund costs rising by $739,730.
Taylor said some good news is that the amount the county will pay in debt service expenses is projected to drop by $811,343, to offset the mental health expenses increase. A full discussion of the mental health costs will come on Jan. 29.
Butler said fiscal year 2020 "should be a great year, as there will be economic growth, tax base increases and creation of jobs."
Butler added, "The board of supervisors will fulfill the responsibility of balancing the budget with the taxpayers in mind, in order to provide the functions and services to the citizens of Woodbury County through the most effective and efficient way possible."
The budget year runs from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020, and all Iowa counties must set budgets by March 15.
PIERSON, Iowa -- Karl Bahrke, of Alton, Iowa, has played golf for 91 straight months at the Pierson Golf Association's 9-hole sand-greens layout in Pierson, his hometown. With the New Year unfolding and temperatures sinking to single digits, Bahrke told me his 92nd straight golf date there would have to wait.
Maybe until this weekend as temperatures rise past 40.
Before looking ahead, I glance over my shoulder, picturing the adventurous Bahrke and others I was privileged to cover in 2018. Here's a few of the highs and heartbreaks you gave me the chance to witness.
Temps soared near 90 on July 4 as I walked the entire Star Spangled Spectacular parade route back home in Storm Lake, Iowa. My intent was to cover Pulitzer Prize winner Art Cullen, editor of The Storm Lake Times, as he served as grand marshal for a parade seen by an estimated 10,000-plus. What fun!
Better yet? Catching up, if only briefly, with Khamlo Khounlo as he sat on the front deck of his home near the parade's finish line on Hudson Street. Khounlo, whom I featured as The (Storm Lake) Times' Man of the Year nearly three decades ago, flashed a wide grin, eyes sparkling as we shook hands.
Khounlo was among the first in this recent wave of immigrants to make Storm Lake his home, having settled in the Buena Vista County seat as then-Gov. Robert D. Ray, who died July 8, 2018, offered Iowa as a home for those displaced by war in Southeast Asia. This state's greatest humanitarian effort in my lifetime, if not a century, resonates daily in Iowans like Khamlo Khounlo.
Moments after leaving the Khounlo home I stumbled into the path of Ashland, Oregon, residents George Kramer and his wife, Joyce Van Anne, a couple that detoured into Storm Lake that morning, putting a kink into their Sioux City-to-Mason City drive. They were stunned in a good way to find the lakeshore teeming with people of all ages and races, a pair of travelers hailing their fortune in finding America's melting pot on Independence Day.
Kramer had piloted the restoration of Ashland's "Pioneer Mike" statue, a brother to the "Pioneer" statue that graces Storm Lake's north shore and peers west out onto the lake. We walked and talked, covering 10 blocks until reaching the statue that connected this couple to the Buena Vista County seat.
They offered a powerful quote, allowing me to view the celebration from their vantage point: "Ashland has an old-fashioned Fourth of July parade like this, but it's limited to the business district," said Van Anne, whose family has roots in Rock Rapids, Iowa. "We don't venture into the residential areas like this. The food spread on your lawns is wonderful! That's the way to celebrate the Fourth of July!"
A celebration of a different kind unfolded in September as I covered a traditional homecoming football game that took place on a nontraditional Monday night. It happened when the Pioneers of Okoboji High School postponed their football game following the tragic death of a cheerleader for the opponent from MMCRU High School in Marcus, Iowa.
Natalee Henke, a popular Royals senior, died that week, the result of a blood clot in her lungs. Students across Siouxland responded by sending care packages to students at MMCRU, helping them to deal with the loss of an all-conference softball player who spent the early autumn revving up Royals' football fans.
Students at Okoboji High in Milford, Iowa, took the additional step -- a remarkable one, really -- in postponing their homecoming football contest with the Royals as the student body at MMCRU observed the visitation and funeral service for Henke that Friday and Saturday. The game took place on Monday, one highlighted when Pioneer cheerleaders passed buckets through the home bleachers to collect funds for a scholarship to be established at MMCRU in Henke's name. A total of $2,202 was raised in that gesture alone.
Courtney Miller, a Royals cheerleader who looked forward to sharing her senior year on the softball diamond with Henke, lauded the Pioneers, saying, "We know it was their (Okoboji) homecoming and we're beyond grateful what they've done for us, considering the circumstances."
Miller went on to add, "I feel Natalee's presence here. She is with us at each practice and game. She'd want us to be playing, to be cheering our hearts out, working to the fullest of our abilities."
There were others we lost in 2018, those who also made Siouxland that much warmer.
In August, I offered a eulogy at the funeral of cattleman Glenn Gregg at Hawarden, Iowa, sharing how he and I became pals as we split bleacher seats at West Sioux football, basketball and baseball games over the past eight years.
The World War II veteran shared the story of his leg amputation when we met. I liked Glenn and his wife, LaVonne, immediately. Glenn lost his leg late in life, an occurrence that eventually was traced back to wounds he received while being shot by a German soldier in Germany in November 1944.
Glenn was a pillar in his community and Sioux County, a leader in livestock circles who shared his energy and expertise with U.S. Presidents.
Glenn Gregg was buried with military honors, smiles and sadness in August, two weeks following the funeral of World War II pilot Paul Gambaiana, whom I'd met and written about a few years ago as he shared with me details of his experiences as a Prisoner of War.
Like the Greggs, I came to enjoy Hawarden's Paul and Dixie Gambaiana immediately as their commitment to education (my mom taught, like Paul) and their large family (I'm one of eight children, the Gambaianas raised eight kids) mirrored in many ways my upbringing in a large old home served by two loving parents and a single-car garage, detached.
Paul Gambaiana survived imprisonment and lived, though he didn't live to tell about it. He only shared his war-time experiences as his children became adults and began to stitch together pieces of their father's service. I'm ever grateful they did and allowed me to share his remarkable journey with a larger audience.
When Paul was buried on that breezy August morning at Eden Cemetery near Hudson, South Dakota,, a solitary plane dissected blue skies above, not the military fly-over the family was told couldn't happen in this instance. There were tears, giggles and smiles as the family noticed the plane, prompting the Rev. Barb Joy of Hawarden United Methodist Church to drape an arm around Dixie, while saying, "I guess that's the best we could do for a fly-over."
I will never forget that little plane silently crossing the sky. I won't forget the Greggs and the incredible act of selflessness shown by children in Okoboji and Milford. My life is richer for having shared my front-row seat.
I'll keep my eyes, ears and notebook open for you, in search of our next adventure, whether it's an all-seasons golfer, an immigrant finding his way, or a visitor seeking that Siouxland warmth we're inclined to show.