The partial government shutdown is spilling into its third week with no signs of progress in the latest round of talks to fully reopen the government.
After returning last week to start the 116th Congress, both chambers aren’t expected to be back in Washington until Tuesday. It will mark Day 18 of the funding fight, making the current partial funding lapse the second longest shutdown.
The late start to the week comes as negotiations have faltered amid a protracted, entrenched fight over funding for President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE’s U.S.-Mexico border wall. Vice President Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenEx-Trump official: 'No. 1 national security threat I've ever seen' is GOP Left-leaning group to track which companies hire former top Trump aides Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' MORE met with leadership staffers in back-to-back meetings over the weekend.
Trump claimed on Sunday that the talks were “productive,” suggesting the administration was willing to compromise by using a “steel Barrier rather than concrete.”
A Republican GOP leadership aide said Nielsen walked Democrats through the reasoning behind the GOP’s demands.
“Democrats were given what they asked for, which was a detailed, breakdown list of the administration’s proposals for border security that include the wall and other border protection measures,” the source said.
“Democrats were given the opportunity to ask questions of Secretary Nielsen and hear DHS’s justification for the specific funding requests. Their justifications made it abundantly clear why it is necessary to have this level of funding to effectively secure our border.”
But a Democratic official familiar with the meeting said on Sunday that “no progress was made” and the group isn’t currently scheduled to meet again.
“Democrats asked for a full budget justification for the Administration’s position because the $5.7 billion wall request was not included in the Administration’s FY 2019 request and the Administration has not had a consistent position in various conversations with the Hill. Democratic staff did not receive a full budget justification today,” the official added.
The staff-level talks comes after Trump met with congressional leadership twice last week without breaking the border stalemate. Democrats have been wary of negotiating with Pence or other administration officials after the president has repeatedly undercut potential deals floated by the vice president.
With the administration digging in on its demand for $5 billion for the border wall, Democrats will instead focus their tactics on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling Franken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Woodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China MORE (R-Ky.). With seven appropriations measures still needing a presidential signature, Democrats are expected to begin passing individual bills this week to try to ratchet up pressure on Senate Republicans to take up bills unrelated to DHS and the border fight.
"House Democrats will begin passing individual appropriations bills to reopen all government agencies, starting with the appropriations bill that covers the Department of Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service. ... This bill will then go to the Senate where it has already been passed with overwhelmingly bipartisan support,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Democrats believe the Treasury spending bill will back Republicans into a tough political bind by forcing them to vote against, or ignore, a bill that would allow the IRS to reopen as Americans begin filing their 2018 tax returns. A senior administration official told The Washington Post that payments of tax refunds would be significantly impacted, if they are paid at all.
House Appropriations Chair Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyLobbying world Progressives fight for leverage amid ever-slimming majority Biden needs to tear down bureaucratic walls and refocus Middle East programs MORE (D-N.Y.), who released the text of the four bills on Sunday, blasted Senate Republicans for “acting at the behest” of Trump and refusing to take up the legislation to reopen the government.
“These bills, which have already passed the Senate on a 92-6 vote, do exactly that. Unless Congress acts, the American people will not receive their tax refunds, families will lose food stamps, homebuyers seeking mortgages will remain in limbo, and our National Parks will continue to accumulate garbage and waste,” she said in a statement. “These bills will stop this chaos, get many federal employees back on the job, and ensure that key parts of the government are working for the American people. After we pass these four bills, the Senate should clear them and the President should sign them into law.”
The House Rules Committee is expected to consider each of the following appropriations bills on Tuesday: Financial Services and General Government; Transportation, Housing and Urban Development; Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and related agencies and the Department of the Interior, Environment and related agencies.
But the individual bills are likely to go nowhere in the Senate. McConnell has pledged the chamber will not take up a government funding bill that Trump doesn’t support, blasting a funding package passed by the House last week as a “time-wasting act of political posturing.”
McConnell’s decision to not take up legislation that doesn’t have Trump’s blessing comes after the Senate passed a stopgap bill that would have funded roughly a quarter of the government through Feb. 8. But Trump, under fire from conservative pundits and lawmakers, refused to support the legislation.
Of the nearly two dozen seats that Senate Republicans are defending in 2020, including McConnell’s, most are in safely red states where breaking with Trump over the border fight could backfire with base GOP voters and potentially spark a primary fight.
But a handful of senators, including those up in blue or purple states, is urging the GOP leader to take up the House bills or even a stopgap measure to try to end the shutdown fight.
Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike GOP senator will 'probably' vote for debt limit increase Welcome to ground zero of climate chaos MORE (R-Maine), whose state was carried by Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty MORE in 2016, said Sunday that she would support holding a Senate vote on bills passed in the House to reopen parts of the government unrelated to the border stalemate.
Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerProtecting the outdoors: Three cheers for America's best idea Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program MORE (R-Colo.), who is also up for reelection in 2020, told The Hill late last week that he wanted to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to fully reopen the government.
“I think we should pass a continuing resolution to get the government back open. The Senate has done it last Congress; we should do it again today,” he said.
Any senator could go to the floor to try to force a vote, though their request would likely be blocked. So far no senator has tried.
The Senate is gearing up to rebut the administration on Syria, after Trump's decision to pull U.S. troops out of the country caught lawmakers off guard.
McConnell has set up an initial vote on Tuesday to take up legislation that would impose sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and bolster cooperation with Israel and Jordan.
Though the legislation doesn't speak directly to the U.S. military's involvement in Syria, Senate aides told NBC News that it's meant to reassert Congress's role in shaping foreign policy and make the argument for continued U.S. engagement. The Senate Armed Services Committee is getting a separate closed-door briefing on Thursday on Trump’s announcement last year that he was removing U.S. troops from Syria.
But the package is getting pushback because it includes a bill that seeks to counter the "Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions" movement by opposing boycotts or divestment from Israel.
The American Civil Liberties Union knocked the bill, as well as the Senate for bringing it up during a partial shutdown and for making it the first bill of the year.
“This bill would weaken First Amendment protections, encouraging states to adopt the same anti-boycott laws that TWO federal courts blocked on free speech grounds,” the group added in a tweet.
Though the bill likely has the votes to pass, Democrats are under pressure to jam up the Senate floor by blocking anything besides government funding bills from getting a vote until the partial shutdown ends.
Sen.-elect Rick Scott (R-Fla.) will be sworn in on Tuesday as his successor for governor of Florida prepares to take over the state’s top office.
Though the chamber’s other freshman members were sworn in on Thursday, Scott delayed his swear-in because of a scheduling quirk. Under the U.S. Constitution, new lawmakers are sworn in on Jan. 3. But Florida’s Constitution requires that the governor be sworn in on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of January, forcing Scott to miss the first few days of the 116th Congress.