Politics

Senate, House Convene as Some Government Agencies Shut Down

Talks between White House and Senate Democrats over Trump’s border wall come up short

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell arrives at the Capitol for a rare Saturday session of the Senate. With no progress made in the impasse over funding President Donald Trump’s border wall that has caused a partial government shutdown, the Senate adjourned until after Christmas three hours after convening. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate and House convened in a rare Saturday sessions after nine Cabinet-level departments and several other federal agencies ceased operations Saturday morning in the latest government shutdown of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney issued a memo to the heads of executive departments and agencies late Friday directing them to implement shutdown plans for departments not funded by the spending bills for fiscal 2019 that have become law.

“Although we are hopeful that this lapse in appropriations will be of short duration, employees should report to work for their next regularly scheduled tour of duty to undertake orderly shutdown activities,” Mulvaney wrote.

The White House deployed Vice President Mike Pence, Mulvaney and senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner  to the Capitol for closed-door talks with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and Speaker Paul D. Ryan. Schumer laid out three options he said Senate Democrats could support as the group moved from office to office inside the ornate building.

But, in the end, the various factions were unable to settle on one plan that could pass both chambers — and, most importantly, get Trump’s signature to avert a shutdown or end a very short lapse in funding.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard C. Shelby said late Friday that Republicans made an offer to Democrats “a couple of hours ago" that included all seven remaining fiscal 2019 spending bills.

“It was seven bills,” the Alabama Republican said, adding that the goal is to finish the fiscal 2019 spending process now. “We would like to do seven if we could, but to do seven we'd have to agree on some sort of border security and that is a lynchpin of an obstacle of the seventh bill.”

The border wall aspect is still a politically divisive issue for both political parties where there is a lot of concern about what exactly a barrier would be called and how funding could be spent.

Should an agreement be reached, Shelby said, he expected congressional leaders as well as lawmakers would want assurances Trump will sign it, avoiding a repeat of the fiasco that played out this week.

“We would all have to have assurance if we ever reach a tentative agreement that the president would agree to what we’ve agreed to and sign it,” Shelby told reporters.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday evening that he hoped Senate Democrats will work with the White House on an agreement that can pass both the Senate and the House.

“So, colleagues, when an agreement is reached it will receive a vote here on the Senate floor,” he said.

Both the Senate and House will convene at noon in rare Saturday sessions.

[Hammered by Conservatives, Trump Pivots to ‘Principles’ and Chaos]

Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi blamed the funding lapse on the president’s “temper tantrum.”

“Regrettably, America has now entered a Trump Shutdown. Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the White House. But instead of honoring his responsibility to the American people, President Trump threw a temper tantrum and convinced House Republicans to push our nation into a destructive Trump Shutdown in the middle of the holiday season,” they said in a joint statement. “President Trump has said more than 25 times that he wanted a shutdown and now he has gotten what he wanted.”

Schumer reminded the White House delegation in their discussions that that any proposal with funding for the wall would not pass the Senate, a spokesman for the Democratic leader said. That came about an hour after Trump’s top spokeswoman suggested the president was willing to try a Hail Mary pass to get a deal and avert a shutdown.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders told Roll Call that there might be a border wall funding level below President Trump’s $5 billion demand that he would accept.

“We’ll see what they’re willing to do on their side,” she said of Democrats. “Talks are ongoing.”

Asked whether the president was willing to negotiate with Democrats — especially with a House-passed stopgap that includes Trump’s wall demand likely failing in the Senate — she replied: “It’s always been a negotiation.”

But many rank-and-file Democrats were not so sure on Friday.

“If the president actually wants to negotiate and avoid a shutdown he should be negotiating with both Democratic and Republican leadership,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said Friday morning, adding that he sees much of the debate about border barrier funding is more about “optics than substance.”

“The president is trying to cast this as Democrats don’t care about border security, I do. That’s not true. This is about the visuals of him pounding his chest over this,” Coons said.

What now?

“We’re not voting on anything else ... until there’s a global agreement,” Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee said on the floor Friday night. “No test votes.”

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who like Corker is retiring, spoke next and said: “The next time we vote will be on the agreement, not another test vote.” But it was unclear Friday night when that might happen.

[LIVE BLOG: Shutdown Countdown — Here’s the Latest]

Federal agencies always have some breathing room in shutdown situations, with unspent funding available to spend down. And the president gave federal workers another reprieve earlier this week when he gave all federal workers Christmas Eve off ahead of the Christmas holiday.

That means “real impact won’t be felt until next Wednesday, so maybe there is a very short term until next Wednesday night,” said G. William Hoagland, a former aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and now an executive at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

“The words ‘border security’ seem to be in play. That’s where a final deal will be reached and both sides can claim some credit,” Hoagland said.

Marc Short, Trump’s former top liaison to Congress, said Friday morning in a television interview that those kinds of matters should have been worked out weeks ago. But Vice President Mike Pence told GOP senators earlier this week Trump would sign the Senate’s stopgap with the $1.3 billion for the fencing — that’s why many Republican senators headed home after the chamber finished its pre-holiday business.

Fast forward a few days and Pence’s boss was on Twitter predicting a likely government shutdown “will last for a very long time.”

Hoagland went through the last Christmas holiday shutdown in 1995. “It lasted until Jan. 6 — seems like history is repeating,” he said.

Trump has made a series of abrupt decisions since Wednesday morning after conservative opinion-shapers criticized his willingness to sign the Senate’s stopgap, as well for his support for a criminal justice reform measure with lighter sentencing policies. Along with the shutdown threat, he decided on his own to remove all U.S. troops from Syria and about half of the remaining 15,000 in Afghanistan.

The latter two decisions caused his defense secretary, James Mattis, to step down (effective in February). And that caused alarm among even Republican lawmakers, with some of their Democratic colleagues warning of a national security crisis since the retired Marine Corps general was seen as a beacon of stability beside the unpredictable, gut-player commander in chief.

The bottom line as 40 percent of the federal apparatus closes, as former Clinton White House aide Joe Lockhart put it Friday on CNN: “Anything’s possible.”

Words will matter going forward. Shortly before 6 p.m., Trump tweeted an artist’s rendering of his envisioned border barrier.

It featured a number of what he again called “steel slats.” He also described it as “totally effective while at the same time beautiful!” A Schumer spokesman says any final bill could call for "fencing" dollars — but not wall funding. Bottom line: The semantics will matter a lot as talks continue.

Remember When Donald Trump Wanted Mexico To Pay for the Wall?

 

 

Jennifer Shutt and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report. 

 

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