No Progress In Talks To End Shutdown
As the shutdown continues, there's little sign of progress on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
White House officials and Congressional staffers spent much of the day yesterday trying to come up with a deal to end the government shutdown prompted by the President’s demand for partial border wall funding, but it seems clear that no real progress was made:
WASHINGTON — As a partial government shutdown entered its third week, negotiations between Vice President Mike Pence and congressional aides from both parties yielded little progress on Saturday while the impact on government services and on federal workers was worsening by the day.
“Not much headway made today,” President Trump conceded on Twitter, not long after the vice president’s office characterized the roughly two-hour talks, held next to the White House at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, as “productive.”
The two sides are scheduled to meet again Sunday afternoon, but there was little hope that the broad divide between Mr. Trump and Democrats over his demand for more than $5 billion for a border wall would be bridged anytime soon. Saturday’s talks came a day after Mr. Trump said the government shutdown could continue for “months or even years” if Democrats did not relent on their steadfast refusal to grant him the wall money.
The negotiations on Saturday focused on priorities for security rather than a dollar figure for the border wall, the vice president’s office said. While Mr. Trump has stood by his $5.7 billion demand, Senate Democrats have offered $1.3 billion for border security, including fencing, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, have repeatedly said that they will not agree to any wall funding. Ms. Pelosi has called a border wall an “immorality.”
The vice president’s office said that Mr. Pence had reiterated the president’s position that any deal needed to include funding for the wall. The office also said that Democrats had requested additional information from the Department of Homeland Security about its needs to deal with border issues.
Democratic staff members asked for a formal budget justification for the administration’s insistence on its $5.7 billion proposal, a Democratic official familiar with the discussion said, adding that Mr. Pence made clear that the White House would not budge from that figure. The Democrats told the vice president that there would be no movement on the dollar figure until after the government is reopened.
It is unclear just what kind of authority Mr. Trump has granted Mr. Pence to speak for him in negotiations. Last month, when Mr. Pence made a $2.6 billion counteroffer to Democrats in an effort to avert the shutdown, Mr. Trump quickly shot down the proposal.
During the talks on Saturday, Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, offered a briefing on what the administration has deemed a “crisis” at the border. Ms. Nielsen had tried to give a similar briefing earlier in the week to congressional leaders and White House officials gathered in the Situation Room, but she was cut off by Ms. Pelosi, who questioned Ms. Nielsen’s facts.
In addition to Ms. Nielsen, the vice president was joined on Saturday by Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff, and Jared Kushner, a senior adviser to Mr. Trump. Mr. Kushner is said to have raised the prospect with Democratic lawmakers that if they give the president the full $5.7 billion in wall funding or something close to it, they might in exchange get an agreement for new protections for the young immigrants known as Dreamers. The prospect of such a deal has alarmed some conservatives.
For his part, the president seemed to be goading Democrats with a morning tweet that implied that he was ready to talk with them at the White House, even though it was Mr. Trump who had announced on Friday that the meeting would be at the staff level.
The president also repeated his claim that the bulk of federal workers who are going without pay are Democrats — a claim rebuffed by federal union leaders — but said their political affiliation was not relevant to him. On Friday, he had said that most federal workers supported his demand for a border wall and were willing to sacrifice their paychecks to achieve it.
Politico has more:
Congressional Democrats and President Donald Trump remain a long way off from reopening the government, though top congressional officials and the Trump administration agreed to keep talking on Sunday about how to lift the government out of a 15-day partial shutdown.
In a lengthy meeting held midday Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other administration officials continued to push for $5.7 billion in border barrier funding, according to congressional aides and people familiar with the meeting.
The administration plans to submit a formal ask of how they want to use that money later this weekend, and congressional staffers and Trump aides will meet again on Sunday, according to an administration official.
Democrats reiterated in the meeting that they do not want to negotiate on immigration or anything else until the government opens back up, according to Republican and Democratic aides familiar with the meeting. Protecting hundreds of thousands of immigrants protected under the Obama-era DACA program did not come up, people familiar with the meeting said, though asylum policies were discussed.
“Today was an opportunity for the administration to come down from an untenable position that cannot pass the Congress. That did not happen,” said a Democratic source familiar with the meeting.
“If Democrats truly appreciate the urgency of opening the government and the border crisis, they will either accept or make a counter to the budget justification,” shot back a Republican source.
Trump himself acknowledged that not much progress had been made.
“V.P. Mike Pence and team just left the White House,” Trump tweeted. “Briefed me on their meeting with the Schumer/Pelosi representatives. Not much headway made today. Second meeting set for tomorrow. After so many decades, must finally and permanently fix the problems on the Southern Border!”
With both sides still far apart, House Democrats on Saturday disclosed the next phase of their funding strategy, in a clear attempt to pressure more GOP lawmakers into defying Trump and agreeing to reopen the government.
Pelosi announced Saturday afternoon that Democrats would vote to reopen federal departments one by one, starting with the bill that funds the Internal Revenue Service — a move that would likely ensure the on-time arrival of millions of tax returns.
“It’s a direct impact for basically every American,” a House Democratic aide said.
The same bill would also give federal workers a 1.9 percent pay raise, which Trump has personally opposed. It would also block the pay raise slated for Pence and his executive office staff, according to the aide.
Democrats are adopting a tactic reminiscent of House Republicans’ strategy during the 2013 shutdown, in another period of fiercely divided government.
They also hope to weaken Trump’s base of support in the House, where seven Republicans already voted to pass Pelosi’s last funding package, as GOP leaders continue to casually predict that a shutdown could last for months, if not years.
Democrats announced their plan shortly after the staff-level discussions, which followed a raucous meeting among Trump and Democratic and Republican congressional leaders on Friday that devolved into Trump grousing about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s members calling for his impeachment. Trump also said the shutdown could last months or years if he does not get what he wants.
A White House official indicated on Saturday that if no agreement is reached by the middle of next week, the shutdown could last until the end of January. Congress is out of session until Tuesday.
Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, meanwhile, told “Meet the Press” in an interview due to air on Sunday that Trump was willing to shift his demand from a concrete wall to a steel fence — something Trump himself has already publicly floated.
“If he has to give up a concrete wall, replace it with a steel fence in order to do that so that Democrats can say, ‘See? He’s not building a wall anymore,’ that should help us move in the right direction,” Mulvaney said.
The shutdown is now into its third week and is one of the longest in history, though 75 percent of the government was funded last year. Democrats have repeatedly told the administration they find it difficult to negotiate on the president’s border security demands until the government opens up; Trump has surmised that his only real leverage to get border funding is refusing to sign any bill that shirks one of his chief political priorities.
Democrats have offered only $1.3 billion in annual border fencing, and Trump is still asking for the $5.7 billion that last year’s House majority provided in a bill that the Senate never passed. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of federal workers are furloughed or working without pay, trash is piling up at national parks and the Smithsonian museums are shuttered.
Admittedly, we are now at the point where talking about this shutdown is beginning to sound like something of a broken record. Even as it goes forward, and will surpass the 2013 Obamacare Shutdown in length tomorrow, there is no evidence of progress based on the public positions being taken by Congressional Democrats, Republicans, and most importantly by the President and little evidence of progress behind the scenes either. As a result, we’re reduced to politicians sticking to their talking points and pundits repeating the same analysis over and over again. As things stand, we’re basically at the same point we were at on December 22nd when the shutdown began.
The President is apparently not going to back down on his demand for border wall funding. The Democrats are not going to give in on the idea of funding a border wall. At this point, if there is going to be a breaking point, it’s likely to come either from the pressure of public opinion, which hasn’t really been measured since before the shutdown began since polling usually doesn’t take place over holiday periods due to low response rates or from breaks in unity among Senate Republicans. I noted late last week that Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was already starting to see some signs of political pressure in that regard from some members of the Republican caucus. Further signs of that came yesterday in the form of an Op-Ed by North Carolina Senator Thom Tills, who is one of the Republicans up for re-election in 2020 who is likely to be a target for Democrats. If McConnell finds himself losing support from these Republicans then it could become harder for him to remain on the sidelines in these talks and to continue with his position that the Senate will not consider any bill unless the President signs off on it first.
The White House and Congressional teams will be meeting again today, but the likelihood of progress seems grim. In 2013, the quick move to end the shutdown was largely prompted by the fact that the government would have run up against the debt ceiling and the prospect of defaulting on the national debt and other government obligations. There is no similar pressure on the horizon this time, though, and that means the prospect of the two — or is it three? —- sides in this melodrama being forced into a compromise are far lower. This is likely to last a long time, folks.