Shut­down to stretch past Christ­mas

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Lisa Mas­caro, Dar­lene Su­perville and Kevin Frek­ing

— The par­tial fed­eral shut­down was ex­pected to drag past Christ­mas as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and con­gres­sional leaders re­mained stuck in a stand­off over his bor­der wall with Mex­ico with no break­through Satur­day.

Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence ar­rived on Capi­tol Hill with a coun­terof­fer to Democrats af­ter the sides traded of­fers in re­cent days.

At the White House, Trump heard mixed mes­sages dur­ing a lunch with con­ser­va­tive law­mak­ers; some wanted him to fight for the wall, oth­ers pre­ferred to get the govern­ment re-opened.

The Se­nate, which had gaveled in with the House for a rare week­end ses­sion, ad­journed un­til Christ­mas Eve, but won’t re­turn for a full ses­sion un­til Thurs­day.

Even a tem­po­rary mea­sure to keep govern­ment run­ning for a few days while ne­go­ti­a­tions con­tin­ued seemed out of reach.

“Lis­ten, any­thing can hap­pen,” Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch

McCon­nell told re­porters af­ter he closed the ses­sion.

But the sit­u­a­tion seemed less hope­ful for a res­o­lu­tion. The Repub­li­can chair­man of the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, said a quick end to the shut­down was “not prob­a­ble.”

“I don’t think it’s im­mi­nent we’re go­ing to reach a deal,” Shelby told re­porters af­ter he ush­ered Pence through the halls for meet­ings. “I wish we could.”

Trump was de­mand­ing $5 bil­lion for a wall, but con­gres­sional Democrats were re­fus­ing to ac­cede in a stale­mate that pro­vided a chaotic coda for Repub­li­cans in the wan­ing days of their two-year reign con­trol­ling govern­ment.

The pres­i­dent jet­ti­soned his Florida hol­i­day get­away to his club Mar-a-Lago, tweet­ing, “I am in the White House, work­ing hard.” First lady Me­la­nia Trump was fly­ing back to Washington to be with her hus­band.

Trump hosted a lunch with con­ser­va­tive law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing House Free­dom Cau­cus chiefs Mark Mead­ows of North Carolina and Jim Jor­dan of Ohio, and sev­eral sen­a­tors, among them Lind­sey Gra­ham of South Carolina. Ab­sent were GOP leaders or any Democrats.

For the sec­ond day in a row, Pence shut­tled over to the Capi­tol to work on a deal. Se­nate Demo­cratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York met with Pence at the re­quest of the White House, ac­cord­ing to Schumer’s of­fice.

Shelby said the two sides had ex­changed coun­terof­fers over the past days and that Pence was ar­riv­ing with a new one from the White House. Pence left a short time later.

Schumer said the “Trump shut­down” could end im­me­di­ately if Trump sim­ply dropped his de­mand for money that was the cen­ter­piece of his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Trump had pledged that Mex­ico would pay for the wall; Mex­ico has re­fused.

“If you want to open the govern­ment, you must aban­don the wall,” Schumer said.

Democrats said they were open to other pro­pos­als that don’t in­clude the wall, which Schumer said was too costly and un­pop­u­lar. They have of­fered to keep spend­ing at ex­ist­ing lev­els of $1.3 bil­lion for bor­der fenc­ing and other se­cu­rity.

But Trump, dig­ging in, tweeted that “the cri­sis of il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity” at Amer­ica’s south­ern bor­der is “real and will not stop un­til we build a great Steel Bar­rier or Wall.”

Repub­li­can leaders largely stayed in the back­ground of the ne­go­ti­a­tions, and McCon­nell opened the Se­nate say­ing any deal to re­open govern­ment would re­quire Demo­cratic sup­port for pas­sage and the pres­i­dent’s sig­na­ture.

The im­passe blocked money for nine of 15 Cab­i­net-level de­part­ments and dozens of agen­cies, in­clud­ing the de­part­ments of Home­land Se­cu­rity, Trans­porta­tion, In­te­rior, Agri­cul­ture, State and Jus­tice.

The dis­rup­tion af­fected many govern­ment op­er­a­tions and the rou­tines of 800,000 fed­eral em­ploy­ees. Roughly 420,000 work­ers were deemed es­sen­tial and will work un­paid just days be­fore Christ­mas. An ad­di­tional 380,000 will be fur­loughed.

Fed­eral em­ploy­ees al­ready were granted an ex­tra day of va­ca­tion on Mon­day, Christ­mas Eve, thanks to an ex­ec­u­tive or­der that Trump signed this past week. The Se­nate passed leg­is­la­tion en­sur­ing that work­ers will re­ceive back pay. The House seemed sure to fol­low suit.

Those be­ing fur­loughed in­cluded nearly ev­ery­one at NASA and 52,000 work­ers at the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice. About 8 in 10 em­ploy­ees of the Na­tional Park Ser­vice were to stay home; many parks were ex­pected to close.

Some agen­cies, in­clud­ing the Pen­tagon and the de­part­ments of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs and Health and Hu­man Ser­vices, were al­ready funded and will op­er­ate as usual.

The U.S. Postal Ser­vice, busy de­liv­er­ing pack­ages for the hol­i­day sea­son, were not af­fected be­cause it’s an in­de­pen­dent agency. So­cial Se­cu­rity checks were mailed, troops re­mained on duty and food in­spec­tions con­tin­ued.

Also still func­tion­ing were the FBI, the Bor­der Pa­trol and the Coast Guard. Trans­porta­tion Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cers con­tin­ued to staff air­port check­points and air traf­fic con­trollers were on the job.

Trump has sa­vored the prospect of a shut­down over the wall for months.

Last week he said he would be “proud” to close down the govern­ment. Many of Congress’ most con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans wel­comed such a con­fronta­tion, but most GOP law­mak­ers wanted to avoid one be­cause polling showed the pub­lic op­posed the wall and a shut­down over it.

Ini­tial Repub­li­can re­ac­tion to the shut­down was muted.

Sen. La­mar Alexan­der of Ten­nessee said, “This is a com­plete fail­ure of ne­go­ti­a­tions and a suc­cess for no one.”

Trump made clear last week that he would not blame Democrats for any clo­sure.

How­ever, he and his GOP al­lies spent the past few days say­ing Democrats, who take con­trol of the House on Jan. 3, bore re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Sen­a­tors ap­proved a bi­par­ti­san deal ear­lier in the week to keep the govern­ment open into Fe­bru­ary and pro­vide $1.3 bil­lion for bor­der se­cu­rity projects, but not the wall. But the House re­belled and ap­proved a pack­age tem­po­rar­ily fi­nanc­ing the govern­ment but also set­ting aside $5.7 bil­lion for the bor­der wall.

A test vote in the Se­nate on Fri­day showed that Repub­li­cans lacked the 60 votes needed to ad­vance the House plan.

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