WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump has said he would “love to see” the US government shut down if Congress does not agree an immigration deal.
“If we don’t change it let’s have a shutdown. We’ll do a shutdown, and it’s worth it for our country,” he said.
Earlier in the day, his chief of staff said Mr Trump was unlikely to extend a deadline when legal protections for young immigrants expire.
The government briefly closed last month amid political gridlock.
Speaking on Tuesday to a White House law enforcement panel on gang violence, Mr Trump said: “If we don’t change the legislation, if we don’t get rid of these loopholes where killers are allowed to come into our country and continue to kill… if we don’t change it, let’s have a shutdown.
“I’d love to see a shutdown if we don’t get this stuff taken care of.”
Democratic leader Senator Chuck Schumer said Mr Trump’s comment “speaks for itself”.
“We had one Trump shutdown, nobody wants another, maybe except him,” the New York senator added.
But White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders later said that Mr Trump was “not advocating for the shutdown”.
The press secretary said the president instead “wants a long-term deal and he wants a deal on immigration”.
Earlier in the day Mr Trump said the death of an NFL footballer by a drink driver who had entered the country illegally underscored the need for immigration reform.
Mr Trump’s remarks come as lawmakers debate a legislative plan for so-called Dreamers – undocumented people who entered the US as children.
Two days remain before a temporary government funding bill passed last month is due for renewal.
On Tuesday evening, the House of Representatives passed a bill to keep federal agencies funded until next month. That measure now goes to the Senate.
Mr Trump last year scrapped the Obama-era programme known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca).
He set an expiry date of 5 March and called on Congress to find a solution.
Earlier on Tuesday, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told reporters he doubted “very much” whether the president would extend the Daca programme if there’s no deal.
Mr Kelly added that the original programme was not legal.
During an impromptu interview with US media, Mr Kelly stressed that Daca permit holders would not be a priority for deportation after the deadline passes.
He also defended Mr Trump’s plan to offer permanent protections for 700,000 Daca permit holders plus 1.1 million others who could qualify.
The White House chief of staff said some of those immigrants “were too afraid to sign up, others would say were too lazy to get off their asses”.
The Trump administration last month outlined a plan for nearly two million people to become citizens, in exchange for Congress approving $25bn (RM97.61 billion) for a US-Mexico border wall.
The White House on Monday rejected a bipartisan immigration plan that would extend Daca protections.
The proposal by Senators John McCain and Christopher Coons included funding for border security, but not for a wall.
President Trump tweeted that any deal that did not include enough funding for border security was a “waste of time”.
Last month, he hinted that the protected US residency status for Dreamers could be extended past his self-imposed deadline.
“We want to do what’s right and we’re going to do what’s right, and we’re going to solve the Daca problem,” he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. -BBC