President Donald Trump’s standoff with Democratic leaders over the border wall dragged into a third day on Monday, with no hopes on either side of a Christmas deal to break the stalemate. | Andrew Harnik/AP photo
A large swath of the federal government is shut down — and so are negotiations to reopen it.
President Donald Trump’s standoff with Democratic leaders over the border wall dragged into a third day on Monday, with no hopes on either side of a Christmas deal to break the stalemate. It’s been 48 hours since the last real discussions between Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Vice President Mike Pence, and there's growing sentiment in the Capitol that the closure could drag on until mid-January.
The president spent the day airing his grievances about the impasse on Twitter, saying he’s “waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security.” And the Capitol was empty on Monday save for a quick House session and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who told everyone to prepare for a long standoff.
“This is my fifth shutdown. I’m beyond frustrated. LBJ said, ‘Sometimes you just have to hunker down like a jackass in a hailstorm and just take it.’ So that’s where we are,” Roberts told reporters. “Every one of the shutdowns I’ve been associated with have not worked. And they worked to the advantage of the people that are on the other side.”
While Trump has told allies he’d be willing to come down from his demand for $5 billion in border wall money, Democrats have stood firm on $1.3 billion for fencing, consistent with current spending levels. On Saturday, Pence offered Schumer a bill to reopen the government that would provide $2.1 billion for fencing and an additional $400 million for Trump's other immigration priorities; Democrats countered with $1.3 billion in fencing and more aid for Puerto Rico as part of a disaster package, according to a person familiar with the talks, which essentially recirculated past offers.
Senior Republicans are now looking toward January as the likely end date for the shutdown, which is affecting a quarter of the federal government. Some GOP officials now predict nothing will budge until House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) becomes speaker; that could push the closure to early- to mid-January.
Once Pelosi takes over as speaker, she is expected to send a funding bill sans wall money to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Confident that Trump is losing the PR battle, Democrats have hardened their position, refusing to raise their $1.3 billion offer for border security. In a joint statement, Schumer and Pelosi said different White House officials are contradicting themselves in talks to end the shutdown, “making it impossible to know where they stand at any given moment.”
In addition to Pence, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and adviser Jared Kushner had been leading talks with Schumer.
“Instead of bringing certainty into people’s lives, he’s continuing the Trump shutdown just to please right-wing radio and TV hosts,” the Democrats said of Trump. "As long as the president is guided by the House Freedom Caucus, it’s hard to see how he can come up with a solution that can pass both the House and Senate.”
Democrats have also been talking to Senate Appropriations chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who attended a lunch with Trump on Saturday. Shelby and House Freedom Caucus members were among the attendees, who hoped to get on the same page with the president about getting more border security money than Democrats have offered.
The president's allies argue that Pelosi can't compromise until she's speaker.
"There’s no question that her speakership seems to be in balance against border security. That’s a problem they’re going to have to solve on the Democrats’ side," said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) on Fox News. He implored Democrats to "meet in the middle and provide some resources for a wall and more resources for border security broadly."
The shutdown has given Democrats another data point to portray Trump as an agent of chaos presiding over a flailing administration. In the past few days alone, the president pushed out Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, drew bipartisan scorn for his decision to pull American troops out of Syria and attacked the Federal Reserve chairman for raising interest rates as the president watched the stock market plunge.
That beating continued on Monday, with major domestic exchanges dropping more than 2 percentage points in Christmas Eve trading.
The president was set to convene a meeting on border security on Monday afternoon with Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other officials. Ahead of that event, Trump continued attacking Democrats.
“Virtually every Democrat we are dealing with today strongly supported a Border Wall or Fence,” Trump tweeted, referring to past immigration bills that also would have given undocumented immigrants legal status. “It was only when I made it an important part of my campaign, because people and drugs were pouring into our Country unchecked, that they turned against it. Desperately needed!”
In another tweet, Trump wrote: "I am all alone (poor me) in the White House waiting for the Democrats to come back and make a deal on desperately needed Border Security."
Congress has basically given up on ending the shutdown until at least later this week, when the Senate will come back into session on Thursday. Until then, lawmakers have been told they could be called back if negotiations intensify, but there’s been no sign of that being necessary.
Roberts seemed surprised to leave a short Senate session to find about a dozen reporters waiting for him, eager to learn the latest on the shutdown.
“Don’t you people have anything better to do?” the senator joked.
But Roberts didn’t appear to, either. Poinsettia in hand, he stopped to hold court for several minutes with the assembled scribes.
Garrett Ross and John Bresnahan contributed to this repor