Senators restart shutdown talks — and quickly hit roadblocks

A bipartisan group of senators met on Monday night to search for a way out of the partial government shutdown, but made no visible progress toward breaking the weeks-long stalemate. 

Democrats say their message in the meeting was that President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment MORE has to fully reopen the federal government before they commit to serious negotiations about the border.

"From the Dems’ standpoint, our point is clear, which is government’s got to be reopen before we have a discussion about border security," Sen. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineProgressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising Lawmakers wager local booze, favorite foods in World Series bets José Andrés: Food served in the Capitol came from undocumented immigrants MORE (D-Va.), who took part in the meeting, told reporters.

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He added that the "Democratic message was very unified" in the meeting, and if the government was fully reopened they would be willing to talk "border security, we'll talk immigration reform."

Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsCentrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Bill Gates visits Capitol to discuss climate change with new Senate caucus The Memo: ISIS leader's death is no game-changer for Trump MORE (D-Del.) echoed that in a tweet, saying "if President Trump won’t re-open the government, I don’t think there’s much for us to discuss."

Kaine and Coons are two of more than a dozen senators who met in Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinFormer coal exec Don Blankenship launches third-party presidential bid Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Overnight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics MORE's (D-W.Va.) Capitol hideaway off a low-ceilinged basement hallway to hunt for a way out of the partial shutdown, which is currently on its 24th day.

In addition to Kaine, Coons and Manchin, Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Senate panel clears controversial Trump court pick Republicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump MORE (R-Maine), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderJuan Williams: Republicans flee Trump Romney, Collins, Murkowski only Senate GOP holdouts on Graham's impeachment resolution The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by Better Medicare Alliance — Impeachment angst growing in GOP MORE (R-Tenn.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Trump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition The Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment drama will dominate this week MORE (R-S.C.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanRepublicans warn election results are 'wake-up call' for Trump GOP lawmakers fear Trump becoming too consumed by impeachment fight Synagogues ramp up security in year since Tree of Life shooting MORE (R-Ohio), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerCentrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Hillicon Valley: Facebook to remove mentions of potential whistleblower's name | House Dems demand FCC action over leak of location data | Dem presses regulators to secure health care data Senator criticizes HHS for not investigating exposure of millions of medical images MORE (D-Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' It's time for Congress to establish a national mental health crisis number MORE (R-Colo.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Health Care: Democratic gains mark setback for Trump on Medicaid work requirements | Senate Dems give Warren 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder | Judge strikes Trump rule on health care 'conscience' rights Democrats give Warren's 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder Former NAACP president to run for Cummings's House seat MORE (D-Md.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week Pay America's Coast Guard MORE (R-Alaska) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' Trump rules out total rollback of Chinese tariffs MORE (R-N.C.) took part in the meeting.

Manchin has pitched making an immigration deal as a solution to the shutdown fight, and was spotted around the Capitol Monday deep in talks with other GOP senators about potential ideas.

But senators emerged from the closed-door meeting with no visible progress. They appeared to suggest that at least talking was better than no conversations at all, after negotiations between Trump and congressional leadership stalemated.

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“I am in the camp that says any talk where we can be gathering with members from both side of the aisle … is a good talk,” Murkowski said.

But where the talks can go without buy-in from Senate leadership or Trump is unclear.

“If they can come up with something the president will sign more power to them. ... I wish them well,” said Sen. John CornynJohn CornynFalling investment revives attacks against Trump's tax cuts GOP senators plan to tune out impeachment week The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump says Dems shouldn't hold public hearings MORE (R-Texas), who is not involved in the informal group.

A group of Republican senators, most of whom were in Monday night's meeting, were discussing a plan last week that would have temporarily fully reopened most or all of the government in exchange for the Senate taking up Trump's border request, including an additional $7 billion sent in a request earlier this month. To help win over Democrats there were talks about a deal on “Dreamers,” immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.

But that plan ran aground, senators said, because of intransigence by Trump and House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats sharpen their message on impeachment Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate Siren song of impeachment lures Democrats toward election doom MORE (D-Caif.). Trump has dug in on his demand for more than $5 billion in border funding; Democrats have said $1.3 billion is their cap and that it has to go to fencing.

Tillis told reporters on Monday night that any talks should be “narrowly focused” on the president’s request, as well as addressing Democratic priorities, namely immigration.

“We haven’t gotten down the specifics,” Tillis said, asked if there was a framework that could win over both Republican and Democrats. “I think the fact that we’re talking we recognize that the longer term strategy has to be an act of Congress.”

Graham, who declared the talks over last week. declined to comment as he rushed out of the meeting, telling reporters to “go away.” Graham, who is up for reelection in 2020, has seesawed between publicly urging Trump to dig in and even declare a national emergency to get border wall funding and privately trying to construct a deal that could end the partial shutdown.

Trump said earlier Monday that he “wasn’t interested” in Graham’s strategy of briefly reopening the government to give more time and space for the border wall fight to play out.

But several GOP senators have argued that the Senate should either take up the House-passed plan to reopen the government or a stopgap measure, known as a continuing resolution, to give Trump and congressional Democrats more time to negotiate over the border wall fight.

Alexander, speaking to reporters after the Monday night meeting, said Trump should have “confidence” in Graham to make good on his idea of taking up Trump’s border request in exchange for reopening the government.

Alexander, who has been frustrated by the current stalemate, added that “we deal with this all the time. The Senate operates by unanimous consent, this is why we have committees. ... The executive's job is to initiate the discussion. The president has done that.”

The president “should have confidence in Sen. Graham if he were to  … introduce the president’s request, hold a hearing, mark it up, that he [Trump] would say during the three weeks that Chairman Graham is doing that we’ll reopen the government,” Alexander added. “I still think that’s the best idea.”