As agreement eludes Washington in the waning days of the Republican monopoly on power, it sets up the first big confrontation between Trump and newly empowered Democrats. Trump is sticking with his demand for money to build a border wall with Mexico, and Democrats, who take control of the House on Jan. 3, are refusing to give him what he wants.
Trump raised the stakes on Friday, reissuing threats to shut the U.S.-Mexico border to pressure Congress to fund the wall and to cease aid to three Central American countries from which many migrants have fled.
The president also signaled he was in no rush to seek a resolution, welcoming the fight as he heads toward his own bid for re-election in 2020. He tweeted Thursday evening that Democrats may be able to block him now, “but we have the issue, Border Security. 2020!”
The shutdown is forcing hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors to stay home or work without pay, and many are experiencing mounting stress from the impasse. It also is beginning to pinch citizens who count on varied public services. Gates are closed at some national parks, the government won’t issue new federal flood insurance policies and in New York, the chief judge of Manhattan federal courts suspended work on civil cases involving U.S. government lawyers, including several civil lawsuits in which Trump himself is a defendant.
With another long holiday weekend coming and nearly all lawmakers away from the Capitol there is little expectation of a quick fix.
“We are far apart,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told CBS on Friday, claiming of Democrats, “They’ve left the table all together.”
Incoming acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Democrats are no longer negotiating with the administration over an offer made back on Saturday to accept less than the $5 billion Trump wants for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats said the White House offered $2.5 billion for border security, but that Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told Vice President Mike Pence it wasn’t acceptable.
“There’s not a single Democrat talking to the president of the United States about this deal,” Mulvaney said Friday. He told Fox News that Trump had canceled his plans to travel to Florida for New Year’s.
Mulvaney added of the shutdown: “We do expect this to go on for a while.”
Democrats brushed off the White House’s attempt to cast blame.
“For the White House to try and blame anyone but the president for this shutdown doesn’t pass the laugh test,” said Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has vowed to pass legislation as soon as she takes the gavel, which is expected when the new Congress convenes, to reopen the nine shuttered departments and dozens of agencies now hit by the partial shutdown.
“If they can’t do it before Jan. 3, then we will do it,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., incoming chairman of the Rules Committee. “We’re going to do the responsible thing. We’re going to behave like adults and do our job.”
But even that may be difficult without a compromise because the Senate will remain in Republican hands and Trump’s signature will be needed to turn any bill into law. Negotiations continue between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, but there’s only so much Congress can do without the president.
Trump is not budging, having panned Democratic offers to keep money at current levels — $1.3 billion for border fencing, but not the wall. Senate Republicans approved that compromise in an earlier bill with Democrats but now say they won’t be voting on any more unless something is agreed to by all sides, including Trump.
“I think it’s obvious that until the president decides he can sign something — or something is presented to him — that we are where we are,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who opened the Senate on Thursday for a session that only lasted minutes.
“Call it anything,” he added, “barrier, fence, I won’t say the ‘w’ word.”
Trump long promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico refuses to do so. It was unclear how Trump’s threat to close the border would affect his efforts to ratify an amended North American free trade pact.
He has also repeatedly threatened to cut off U.S. aid to countries he deems insufficient partners in combating illegal immigration, but has thus far failed to follow through with those threats. Experts have warned that cutting off aid money to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras could actually exacerbate the problem by worsening the poverty and violence that push many migrants to leave those countries.
And it is Congress, not the president, which appropriates aid money. The White House would have to notify Congress if it wanted to cut or reallocate aid, which could delay or complicate the process.