As Democrats Take Control, A Solution To The Shutdown Still Seems Unlikely

With Democrats set to take control of Congress today, a resolution to the shutdown doesn't appear to be any closer.

Talks yesterday to end the government shutdown apparently ended up being fruitless, and it appears that both sides are digging in:

 President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders dug in Wednesday for a lengthy partial shutdown in a newly divided government after a White House meeting — the first in 22 days — could not break an impasse over Mr. Trump’s demands for billions of dollars for a border wall.

During the contentious meeting in the Situation Room, Mr. Trump made his case for a wall on the southwestern border and rejected Democrats’ proposals for reopening the government while the two sides ironed out their differences.

“I would look foolish if I did that,” Mr. Trump responded after Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, posed the question to him directly, according to three officials familiar with the meeting who described it on the condition of anonymity. He said that the wall was why he was elected, one of the officials said.

Democrats were equally adamant, according to another official who was present for the discussion. Pressed by Vice President Mike Pence and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the incoming minority leader, they refused to budge from their offer to devote $1.3 billion to border security. The official also insisted on anonymity to describe the private conversation.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said after the meeting that he had no intention of putting Democratic bills to reopen the government to a vote if Mr. Trump would not sign them.

“We’re hopeful that, somehow, in the coming days and weeks, we’ll be able to reach an agreement,” Mr. McConnell told reporters at the Capitol, offering an ominous timeline.

The events underscored the personal and political crosscurrents standing in the way of any compromise between a president unwilling to lose face with his core supporters on his signature campaign promise and newly empowered Democrats — poised to assume control of the House on Thursday — who refuse to give ground on an issue that has come to symbolize Mr. Trump’s immigration policies.

With the partial government funding lapse dragging into its 12th day and affecting 800,000 federal employees, the confrontation in the Situation Room only served to highlight the depth of the divide.

“Could be a long time, or it could be quickly,” Mr. Trump said of resolving the shutdown. “It’s too important a subject to walk away from.”

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, who is in line to be elected speaker on Thursday, said: “We are asking the president to open up government. Why would he not do it?”

“He could not give a good answer,” Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Trump tried creative ways to persuade the Democrats that they should support his wall. At one point, he said Ms. Pelosi should back it because she was “a good Catholic” and Vatican City is surrounded by a wall, according to one of the officials familiar with the discussion.

In her first legislative act as speaker, Ms. Pelosi plans on Thursday to bring up two bills to reopen the government. One would fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8, providing a month to break the impasse over border security funding, and a second would provide money for the remaining shuttered agencies and departments through September. The homeland security measure would devote $1.3 billion to border security measures, such as enhanced surveillance and fortified fencing, but not the wall.

Mr. Trump’s rejection of those measures left the prospects of a resolution at their dimmest since the shutdown began on Dec. 22. It also highlighted the difficulty of the current situation, in which Democrats, Republicans and even some White House staff members have found themselves trying to anticipate what Mr. Trump will accept.

The president asked the congressional leaders to return to the White House on Friday to continue the talks, after Democrats had completed their leadership elections, according to an official who attended the meeting. A second official who attended said Mr. Trump’s team believed it would be easier for Ms. Pelosi to negotiate once she was officially installed as speaker. Both insisted on anonymity to describe the private gathering.

In a pair of evening tweets, Mr. Trump seemed to hold out hope of an agreement, writing: “I remain ready and willing to work with Democrats to pass a bill that secures our borders, supports the agents and officers on the ground, and keeps America Safe. Let’s get it done!”

Politico has more:

President Donald Trump and congressional leaders made no tangible progress toward ending a 12-day government shutdown at a meeting on Wednesday, and Senate GOP leaders said they would not even take up House Democrats’ bills to reopen the government — underscoring the slim odds of quickly resolving the impasse in the new Congress.

Minutes after the meeting began, the Trump administration’s attempt to lecture Democrats on border security issues dissolved into a raucous finger-pointing match that made clear that a partial shutdown would drag into a third weekend.

The president’s face-to-face meeting with Democratic leaders was the first since the shutdown started before Christmas and comes as a quarter of the government remains shuttered, affecting close to 800,000 federal workers. With no resolution reached, Trump invited the group to meet again Friday, a day after House Democrats’ plan to push through their own shutdown-ending deal despite Senate GOP leaders’ warnings that the funding bills won’t even come up for a vote.

“The Senate will be glad to vote on a measure that the House passes that the president will sign. But we’re not going to vote on anything else,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after returning from the White House briefing with the top congressional leaders of both parties.

McConnell added that he hopes a deal could be reached within “days” or even “weeks” — an ominous sign of a protracted funding battle. He later came to the Senate floor to trash the House proposal as a “waste” of time for the Senate to take up and a “total nonstarter.”

“We’re not interested in having show votes here in the Senate,” he said. “It’s exactly the kind of proposal you’d expect of the incoming House Democrats are choosing to stage a political sideshow rather than doing the hard work of helping govern the country.”

The meeting stretched for more than an hour, but the group of senior lawmakers and White House officials didn’t seriously discuss a single new proposal to break the impasse, according to several attendees. Besides setting the date for a Friday meeting, there were no clear steps toward resuming negotiations that have been stalled since before Christmas.

At three different times, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asked Trump why he won’t support reopening the other areas of the government that don’t have to do with the immigration dispute, according to a source familiar with the meeting. Trump replied: “I would be foolish if I did that.”

None of this bodes well for a quick end to the shutdown even after the Democrats take control of Congress later today. In a logical universe, of course, the resolution would be easy to resolve. One option would be the proposal put forward before Christmas by Vice-President Pence and OMB Director and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney that would have pushed the funding debate into February and provided up to $2.5 billion in border security funding, although that funding would not directly apply to the border wall. Given the fact that this proposal came directly through Pence and Mulvaney, it was assumed, apparently incorrectly, that the President had at least tacitly agreed that the proposal could be put forward even if he didn’t formally endorse it. Apparently, that wasn’t the case. A second proposal was one that Democrats will apparently vote on later today that would fully fund those parts of the government that remain unfunded but leave open the budget for the Department of Homeland Security, which is where the border wall funding issue lies. This would allow the vast majority of the government to reopen and give legislators time to resolve the border security debate. As I said the other day it was unlikely that the President would agree to a deal like this because it would deny him a significant amount of leverage in the ongoing showdown. Therefore, it’s not surprising that Trump has rejected that idea because it would make him look “foolish.” A final option, of course, would be for Congress to simply pass the bill that passed the Senate prior to the shutdown, seemingly with the President’s support. This proposal would kick the entire unfunded portion of the budget down the road to some time in February, This proposal, of course, did not pass the House and thus resulted in the shutdown that has been in effect since December 22nd.

Taking all of this into account, the prospects for a quick resolution to the shutdown looks grim indeed, at least in the short term. The President appears unlikely to move off his demand for $5 billion in border wall funding and Democrats are not going to be inclined to give in to the President this early in their tenure in the House. In the Senate, meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is saying that he won’t put any proposal on the floor unless it’s certain that the President would sign it. As long as this is the case this shutdown will remain at an impasse and the odds that it will continue for another week or more, at which point it would become the longest government shutdown in history, are looking exceedingly “good” (or bad as the case may be. Perhaps that won’t be a case after a week or so as the White House and the new Democratic majority in the House feel each other out in these early days of the year. Until then, though, and until both sides come up with a deal they can both accept, this is going to continue for the foreseeable future.


FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Congress, Deficit and Debt, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’ve been harping on the evident fact that while Trump holds his 40% he has zero growth potential, he lacks any capacity to reach beyond his base. Here is where that becomes important. A normal president would be able to exert pressure because a normal president might be able to grow support. Trump cannot grow support, therefore cannot increase leverage. So the blame game remains frozen at 50% to 40%.

    In a couple of weeks if this goes on, TSA agents will start walking off the job and air travel could be very badly affected. And because irony, the immigration courts will also shut down. I suspect Trump will be impervious to pressure (he’s backed himself into a corner and can’t get out) so the pressure will fall on Mitch McConnell. Let’s see who Mitch fears most – Trump or every businessman in the country.

    Bret Stephens on MSNBC this morning compared Trump to Cornwallis in Virginia. He’s trapped and he has no capacity to add to the size of his army to effect a break-out.

  2. grumpy realist says:

    Someone should send McConnell a copy of the Constitution, with the relevant parts on how a bill becomes a law underlined.

    Not even submitting it to a vote? Sheesh.

  3. Kathy says:

    The problem is that both parties in congress could come up with a compromise with relative ease, but not one that would provide a veto-proof vote count.

    McConnell could still get that vote passed, then dare Dennison to veto the bill. Unfortunately that’s a hard thing for a spineless coward to do.

    The thing, though, is that until yesterday the GOP had control of both houses of Congress. They didn’t need a single Democratic vote either in the House or Senate. The House, in fact, approved a bill with vanity wall money. The Senate, with 51 GOP votes did not take it up. Why? Naturally because they lacked enough GOP votes to pass it.

  4. Franklin says:

    I guess I didn’t realize Trump was worried about looking foolish.

  5. James Pearce says:

    As long as this is the case this shutdown will remain at an impasse and the odds that it will continue for another week or more, at which point it would become the longest government shutdown in history

    Small price to pay for denying Trump a political victory he’s going to get anyway, eh?

  6. Teve says:

    Christ the dow’s down 610 points right now.

  7. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @James Pearce:

    Small price to pay for denying Trump a political victory he’s going to get anyway, eh?

    Will he?

    What makes you think so, short of being a Trump cheerleader?

    Since the midterms, he has lost his mojo.

    The façade has crumbled.

  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:
    Trump is white and male so Pearce assumes he’ll win. Seriously.

  9. Franklin says:

    I’ll predict he will not get the political victory. There will be a compromise that has better overall security than a $5B wall ever would.

  10. Franklin says:

    @Teve: Just a glitch! 🙂

  11. James Pearce says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    Will he?

    Yes. He’s going to get $X amount for “border security” and the government will re-open and he’ll brag about fighting Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats for his “wall” funding.

  12. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @James Pearce:

    Yes. He’s going to get $X amount for “border security” and the government will re-open and he’ll brag about fighting Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats for his “wall” funding

    The offer for money for “border security” has already been made, and it has been rejected. Here are the facts:

    1) Democrats previously offered to put $1.6 billion toward border security — but not a wall as Trump proposes — in the spending plan.

    2) The White House (Pence) then floated $2.5 billion in funding, but Democrats rejected that offer.

    3) Trump signaled Wednesday that he would not accept anything other than $5 billion for his proposed wall.

    So, Trump has literally backed himself against a wall.

    If his idea of a wall becomes what you suggest, then he has lost completely.

    As Lindsay Graham stated, and reported in Fox News:

    Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Fox News’ “Hannity” Wednesday night that if President Trump backs away from his demand for $5.7 billion to fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, it would mark “the end of 2019 in terms of him being an effective president” and “probably the end of his presidency.”

  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Pearce:
    He’s already been offered $X for border security, genius, and he tried to declare victory but was bullied by Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

  14. MarkedMan says:

    Of course, no matter what happens Trump will declare victory, and the Trumpers will either believe him or pretend to do so because it owns the libs. The idea that Dems and sane Republicans should change their demands because of this is ridiculous. As long as the Dems get a good deal I’ll be happy, even knowing 100% that Trump a) won’t understand what was in the deal, b) will make whatever claim comes to his mind to his mindless Trumpoids and change that claim 1 minute later if he feels it didn’t get a big enough applause line, and c) will take credit for saving the country based on things he never said or did.

    You don’t shoot holes in the bottom of the life boat because you can’t stand to see the other guy dry…

  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    You don’t shoot holes in the bottom of the life boat because you can’t stand to see the other guy dry…

    You do if you are a contemporary Republican, apparently.

  16. James Pearce says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    The offer for money for “border security” has already been made, and it has been rejected.

    Why you think that means anything, I don’t know. The government is going to stay closed until there’s a deal. That deal will include a lot of money for “border security” which Trump will dishonestly say is for his wall. His supporters may not be perfectly satisfied, but they’ll content themselves with “at least he fights for what we want.”

    I would love to see him standing in front of a steel slat fence that’s been there for 10 years already, bragging about building his wall. Like that photo of him shaking hands with Kim Jong-Un, it should be testament to what a screw-up he is.

    But no, so desperate to deny him any victories, even the ones he’s already won.

    What do you think the Democrats are going to get when they eventually make a deal to re-open the government?

    @Michael Reynolds:

    He’s already been offered $X for border security, genius, and he tried to declare victory but was bullied by Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

    We should make one of them Speaker of the House then.

    I’d prefer to be manipulating Trump –the most corruptible president we’ve had since Nixon– than being manipulated by Trump, but….do you, dude.

  17. Paine says:

    I really, really hope that the Dems overcome their good governance tendencies and stand firm on funding for that stupid wall. We have the idiot on tape saying he owns this shutdown. Stand firm until Trump (or his advisors, really) come to realize this fiasco is causing him more harm than good.

    As for collateral damage… well, I learned from the Republicans that such concerns are secondary to a political win.

  18. Tyrell says:

    Maybe this shutdown means that Director Mueller can finally wrap up the investigation, pack up his TS-8O computer and Royal typewriter and call it a day. Perhaps History Channel can use his expertise and skills on their “Project BlueBook” program.

  19. KM says:


    I guess I didn’t realize Trump was worried about looking foolish.

    Funny what people think makes them look bad is never what’s actually making them look bad. I have a relative that’s extremely lazy bordering on hoarder levels of mess. She’s not a true hoarder as she has zero problems with others coming in and cleaning /throwing out things but her house definitely belongs on A&E and possibly the Superfund list. She’s notorious for not letting people in the house (we’re “judgy”) but recently started watching HGTV and decided to renovate some things. This has led to the truly bizarre dichotomy of a woman proudly leading you past trash piles, dirty dishes overflowing from the sink and dirt-covered tiles to excitedly point out the new fan she had installed in the kitchen…. and apologizing for the “mess” of boxes and wiring the electrician left behind. She’ll pick up the little bits of insulation that fell down and complain how “that man is so messy” but ignore the fruit rinds literally next to it on the floor. They’re not a problem because she did it. It’s only when another dares to dirty her house she gets outraged and demand they clean up immediately. You spill it, you mop it!

    Trump’s like that. He absolutely can NOT look foolish or weak by HIS definition. Every single damn thing he does that makes him the laughing stock of the world isn’t an issue for him because he wants to do it. Force his hand and make him behave? Outrageous – he will not be made a fool of!!!

  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    You’re getting worse and worse at staying in character.

  21. James Pearce says:

    The headline says: “GOP senator calls on Congress to end shutdown without border deal”

    And who is the Senator? Cory Gardner….

  22. James Pearce says:

    @James Pearce: With a link this time.

  23. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @James Pearce:

    Why you think that means anything, I don’t know.

    Because those of us who have a functional memory clearly remember that two of Trump’s main campaign pillars were:

    1) He was going to build a WALL. His specific word were:

    to build a great, great wall on our southern border

    2) That taxpayers would not fund this. His specific words were:

    have Mexico pay for that wall

    These two things were core to his base and key to his message.

    And this is why he is becoming irrelevant.

    Of course he also said:

    “I would rarely leave the White House because there’s so much work to be done, I would not be a president who took vacations. I would not be a president that takes time off.”

    But that was before his 154 days spent golfing, at a cost of $84 Million dollars to taxpayers. ( source )

    Relevance of that?

    If the loyal Trumpians can overlook that cost and activity (because they likely do not know the definition or relevance of emoluments – much less spell it), then yes, I suppose you are right that they can overlook the fact that there will be no Mexico Funded Trump wall.

    But the rest of the country knows that he is ineffective, and as a statesman impotent.

    Shall we make a bet on his chances for a 2020 reelection?

  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: It happens to everyone eventually. The need to stay “fresh” and “edgy” forces them to go off script more and more. As they go off script, they lose the sense of who the character they’re playing is.

  25. Mister Bluster says:

    Come on people. When Chump said: “have Mexico pay for that wall“
    Everyone knows that he meant:

    Mexico, South Carolina
    Mexico, Pennsylvania
    Mexico, Ohio
    Mexico, New York
    Mexico, Missouri
    Mexico, Maryland
    Mexico, Maine
    Mexico, Kentucky
    Mexico, Indiana
    Mexico, Florida