1 of 7 | President Donald Trump speaks Tuesday to U.S. service members from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard from the Oval Office of the White House. Photo by Zach Gibson/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 25 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump spoke to U.S. service members Tuesday on a Christmas Day phone call before telling reporters the government shutdown won't end until $5 billion is allocated for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
The president made the phone call from the Oval Office at the White House Tuesday morning. Trump spoke to units from all five branches of the armed forces -- the Army's Anderson Air Force Base in Guam, the Marines' Sheik Isa Airbase in Bahrain, Naval Central Command in Bahrain, Al Udied Air Force Base in Qatar and Coast Guard District 7 in Juneau, Alaska.
Trump hailed the forces as "the greatest fighting force in the history of the world" and acknowledged their "great sacrifice" being away from their families over the holidays.
"But I want you to know that every American family is eternally grateful to you," he said.
The phone call came days after Trump decided to pull all troops from Syria, effectively declaring Islamic State militants defeated in the country. The withdrawal has drawn opposition from members of both political parties and led to the departure of Defense Secretary James Mattis. Reports suggest Trump is also considering scaling back forces in Afghanistan.
After thanking service members on the calls, Trump spoke to reporters on various topics -- from the border wall to the Justice Department's Russia investigation.
Trump signaled that he won't back down from his position on the wall, saying the federal government shutdown will last until Congress sends him legislation that includes billions for the barrier's construction. Last week, the House passed a funding bill that included money for the wall, but the Senate version omitted any border funding.
"I can't tell you when the government is going to reopen," he said. "[Not until] we have a wall, a fence, whatever they'd like to call it.
"It's a barrier from people pouring into our country. It's a barrier from drugs. There is a problem in this world today called human trafficking. We are not going to let that take place. We are working so hard to catch these traffickers. They are bad people. We can't do it without a barrier, we can't do it without a wall."
Trump said he aims to have a wall built along 500 miles of border by the 2020 election, when he will be up for a second term.
The White House is asking for $5 billion from Congress to put toward the wall, which estimates have said could cost more than $20 billion. Trump said Tuesday he wants the wall to be high, so that no one but Olympic pole vaulters can scale it.
"Very high. It's gonna be 30 feet," he said. "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."
The issue is trickier in the Senate because there isn't enough Democratic support. Trump is hoping to get the funding through Congress now, as it will be even tougher to secure once the new Congress is seated next month and Democrats have control of the House.
"There has been a lot of collusion by the Democrats with Russia and with a lot of other people that maybe they shouldn't have been dealing with. Including very dishonest people," he said.
The top two Democrats in Congress refuse to shoulder the blame, saying Trump is effectively holding the federal government -- and, by extension, the American public -- hostage to get his wall.
"Instead of bringing certainty into people's lives, Trump is continuing the shutdown just to please right-wing radio & TV hosts," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted Monday.
"We arrived at this moment because President Trump has been on a remarkable two-week temper tantrum," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
The two leaders have said if the stalemate continues, the new Democratic-controlled House will "swiftly" reopen the government as soon as the 116th Congress takes office Jan. 3.
Administration officials have said the partial shutdown could last well into 2019. Tuesday, Trump said he understands federal workers and the American public are frustrated with the impasse.
"I think they understand what's happening. They want border security," he said. "The people of this country want border security. It's not a question of me. I'd rather not be doing shutdowns."
The president also said he's heard from workers who want the shutdown to continue until Congress grants money to build the wall.
"These federal workers want the wall. The only one that doesn't want the wall are the Democrats, because they don't mind open borders.
"It's a disgrace what's happening in our country. But other than that, I wish everybody a very Merry Christmas."