Democrats, GOP hold out hope for ending government shutdown
President Donald Trump’s budget director is holding out hope that feuding Democrats and Republicans in Congress can reach a short-term spending agreement before the start of the workweek Monday, but he worries that the government shutdown could last for several more days if progress remains elusive.
Democratic lawmakers challenged the president to get more involved and to accept bipartisan compromise as a way out of a shutdown that entered its second day Sunday amid finger-pointing from both parties as to who bears primary responsibility.
“I really do believe that at heart here there was an interest by some folks in the Democratic Party to deny the president sort of the victory lap of the anniversary of his inauguration, the chance to talk about the success of the tax bill, the success of the economy and jobs,” budget director Mick Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday.” ”And I think if they get over that, there’s a chance this thing gets done before 9 o’clock on Monday morning when folks come to work.”
Democratic lawmakers counter that the president hurt negotiations when he initially expressed support for a compromise and then abruptly turned away from it.
“How can you negotiate with the president under those circumstances where he agrees face-to-face to move forward with a certain path and then within two hours calls back and pulls the plug?” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on ABC’s “This Week.”
Five Republicans were among the senators who voted Friday night against a House-passed plan. The measure gained 50 votes to proceed to 49 against, but 60 were needed to break a Democratic filibuster. One of those senators, Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky, said he is opposed to short-term fiscal bills and called the blame game “ridiculous on both sides.”
“It’s gamesmanship and it’s partisanship,” Paul said.
Paul said the answer to solving the brinksmanship is to guarantee Democrats in writing that they’ll get their debate on immigration issues.
Durbin said bipartisan conversations are taking place and lawmakers from both sides are “in good faith trying to find common ground and put this behind us.”
“But at the end of the day the president has to step up and lead in this situation,” Durbin said.
Lawmakers are participating in rare weekend proceedings in both the House and Senate, where lawmakers were eager to show voters they were actively working for a solution – or at least actively making their case why the other party was at fault. The scene highlighted the political stakes for both parties in an election-year shutdown whose consequences are far from clear.
Democrats refused to provide the votes needed to reopen the government until they strike a deal with Trump protecting young immigrants from deportation, providing disaster relief and boosting spending for opioid treatment and other domestic programs.
The shutdown began Saturday on the anniversary of Trump’s inauguration. As lawmakers bickered in the Capitol, protesters marched outside in a reprise of the women’s march from a year ago. The president remained out of sight and canceled plans to travel to his resort in Florida for the weekend. He did tweet, making light of the timing by saying Democrats “wanted to give me a nice present” to mark the start of his second year in office.
And he resumed his social media commentary early Sunday, before lawmakers returned to Capitol Hill, tweeting that it was “Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border. The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked.” He suggested that if the stalemate drags on, majority Republicans should consider changing Senate rules to do away with the 60-vote threshold to advance legislation and “vote on real, long term budget.”
Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border. The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked. If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51% (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long term budget, no C.R.’s!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 21, 2018
Trump earlier had worked the phones, staying in touch with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., while White House legislative affairs director Marc Short and the budget chief, Mulvaney, met at the Capitol with House Republicans. GOP lawmakers voiced support for the White House stance of not negotiating while the government was shuttered.
Tempers were short and theatrics high.
Republicans blamed the breakdown on Schumer. Democrats increasingly focused their messaging on criticizing Trump, whose popularity is dismal. Democrats were using his zigzagging stance in immigration talks – first encouraging deals, then rejecting them – to underscore his first, chaotic year in office.
“Negotiating with President Trump is like negotiating with Jell-O,” Schumer said.
Short compared Democrats’ actions to “a 2-year-old temper tantrum.”
Republicans seemed content to hope additional Democrats will break as pressure builds and the impact of the shutdown becomes clearer. GOP lawmakers argued that Democrats were blocking extra Pentagon money by keeping government closed and thwarting a long-term budget deal.
But pressure on Republicans could mount when the new business week begins and the impact becomes more apparent to the public.
The Statue of Liberty and Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell were closed, but visitors had access to other sites such as Yellowstone. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tweeted a photo of him talking to students at the World War II Memorial in Washington, blocks from the White House.
Social Security and most other safety-net programs were unaffected by the lapse in federal spending authority. Critical government functions continued, with uniformed service members, health inspectors and law enforcement officers set to work without pay. But if no deal is reached before Monday, hundreds of thousands of federal employees will be furloughed.
For leverage, Democrats were banking on Trump’s wobbly presidency and the GOP’s control of the White House, the House and Senate – a triumvirate that until now had never allowed a government closure to occur.
Democrats have been seeking a deal to protect so-called Dreamers. About 700,000 of them have been shielded against deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which Trump halted last year. He’s given lawmakers until early March to pass legislation restoring the protections, but he’s demanded added money for his proposed border wall with Mexico as a price.
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Richard Lardner and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.