SHUTDOWN TAKES HOLD
Mitch McConnell said the Senate would shutter until Thursday, amid a stalemate over border wall funding.
Parts of the federal government are set to remain closed through much of next week as the Senate shuttered Saturday for Christmas amid a stalemate with President Donald Trump over border wall funding.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced that his chamber would not return to legislative business until Thursday, which means many federal agencies will remain closed until later next week at the earliest and hundreds of thousands of federal workers will be left in limbo about their status.
“Listen, anything can happen,” McConnell said. “We’re pulling for an agreement that can get 60 votes in the Senate and a majority in the House.”
The decision came after Trump had a lunch with conservative Republicans and dispatched Vice President Mike Pence to the Capitol to make the latest offer to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. That meeting ended after 30 minutes with no resolution.
“Still talking,” Pence told reporters as he and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney left Schumer’s office; the senator had said he would “remind” the vice president that Democrats would not sign off on funding for a border wall.
“The vice president came in for a discussion and made an offer. Unfortunately, we’re still very far apart,” a spokesman from Schumer’s office said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., vowed to reopen the government shortly after Democrats take over the House, when she is likely to become speaker. “Until President Trump can publicly commit to a bipartisan resolution, there will be no agreement before January,” Pelosi wrote in a “dear colleague” letter to House Democrats.
The effects of the partial shutdown, which started just after midnight Saturday, will be felt more broadly Wednesday, the first day the federal workforce is expected to return.
The Capitol was quiet Saturday morning, after lawmakers went home Friday evening with Congress still at an impasse over Trump’s demands for billions of dollars to build a wall along the U.S.Mexico border.
Both the House and Senate opened at noon Saturday, but there were no signs of progress in negotiations, which had only been happening at the staff level since a brief huddle late Friday afternoon with Pence and Schumer.
Schumer and McConnell spoke on the floor Saturday, with both blaming the other party for the shutdown and neither showing any sign of giving in.
Few lawmakers were in the Capitol on Saturday, and no votes were scheduled in either chamber. Many lawmakers took off Friday night to return to their home states as they awaited word of the talks, having been assured that they will get 24 hours notice before any vote occurs to reopen the closed portions of the government.
The fundamental stalemate remains in place: Trump says he will not accept legislation unless it contains about $5 billion in funding for his border wall, and Democrats have the votes to block any wall money from going through Congress.
After the lunch meeting with Trump, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., suggested Pence would make a new offer to Schumer about wall funding, but Democratic aides said the vice president presented nothing fundamentally different than the previous demands.
Trump sees this round of negotiations as his best, and possibly last, to exact wall funding from Congress, as Democrats are set to take over the House in January after big wins in the midterm elections.
The president wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning that “We are negotiating with the Democrats on desperately needed Border Security … but it could be a long stay.”
Now, that gridlock is affecting large parts of the federal government. Funding for numerous agencies, including those that operate national parks, homeland security, law enforcement, tax collection and transportation, expired at midnight. Close to 400,000 federal workers are expected to be sitting at home without pay until a deal is reached, and numerous services will be halted in that time, with the effects broadening the longer the funding lapse lasts.
Dozens of national parks and monuments were closed Saturday. The Securities and Exchange Commission has posted a list of the services it will soon suspend, including the processing of certain business records. The Justice Department, Commerce Department and Internal Revenue Service are preparing to keep thousands of workers home without pay.
Employees at those agencies deemed essential will continue working without pay, including many Transportation Security Administration workers dealing with the influx of holiday travelers. After every previous shutdown, Congress has passed legislation to retroactively pay employees.
The rest of the government, including the military, is funded through September by separate legislation Congress and Trump passed earlier this year.
Senior administration officials Saturday put the onus on Senate Democrats to put forth options that include $5 billion for Trump’s promised border wall, saying it was a must for any deal.
“The president came into office promising a wall along the southern border. We couldn’t just let there be no wall,” an official said on a briefing call with reporters. Under the terms of the call, the officials spoke on the condition of anonymity.
When a reporter reminded the officials that Trump campaigned on a promise that Mexico would pay for construction of the wall, the officials said the administration continues to believe Mexico ultimately would pay for the wall but would not entertain questions about how that might be. The Mexican government has said it would not fund the wall.
Jamie Parrish of Minneapolis takes a selfie in front of the closed sign at the National Archives on Saturday in Washington.