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.