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 TrumpMarine unit in Florida reportedly pushing to hold annual ball at Trump property Giuliani clashes with CNN's Cuomo, calls him a 'sellout' and the 'enemy' Giuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it 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 KaineDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Missouri Republican wins annual craft brewing competition for lawmakers Sen. Kaine: No reason for US to 'engage in military action to protect Saudi oil' MORE (D-Va.), who took part in the meeting, told reporters.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 CoonsSenate committee approves 0 million for state election security efforts Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity Bill to return B in unredeemed bonds advances 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) ManchinSchumer: I don't know any 'Democrat who agrees' with O'Rourke on gun seizures O'Rourke: Many Democrats 'complicit' in gun problem The Hill's Morning Report - Pompeo condemns Iran for 'act of war' while Trump moves with caution 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 CollinsGOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan Sinema touts bipartisan record as Arizona Democrats plan censure vote The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico MORE (R-Maine), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 EXCLUSIVE: Swing-state voters oppose 'surprise' medical bill legislation, Trump pollster warns MORE (R-Tenn.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamHouse Armed Services panel gets classified briefing on Saudi attacks America's newest comedy troupe: House GOP GOP group hits Pence over Trump alleged business conflicts MORE (R-S.C.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanCost for last three government shutdowns estimated at billion The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation MORE (R-Ohio), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg courts critics on Capitol Hill | Amazon makes climate pledge | Senate panel approves 0M for state election security Zuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit Zuckerberg to meet with lawmakers to discuss 'future internet regulation' MORE (D-Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Cory GardnerCory Scott Gardner The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Bolton returns to political group after exiting administration The Hill's Morning Report — Trump's hurricane forecast controversy won't go away MORE (R-Colo.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinSenate confirms two Treasury nominees over Democratic objections Congress passes bill to begin scenic byways renaissance GOP lawmaker: 'Dangerous' abuse of Interpol by Russia, China, Venezuela MORE (D-Md.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiSinema touts bipartisan record as Arizona Democrats plan censure vote Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw McConnell lashes out at Democrats over 'unhinged' criticism of Kavanaugh MORE (R-Alaska) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTillis trails Democratic Senate challenger by 2 points: poll Kavanaugh impeachment push hits Capitol buzz saw The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 CornynZuckerberg woos Washington critics during visit Paul objection snags confirmation of former McConnell staffer GOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan 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 PelosiPatagonia says to shut stores for a few hours during Global Climate Strike Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi unveils signature plan to lower drug prices | Trump says it's 'great to see' plan | Progressives pushing for changes Progressives push for changes to Pelosi drug pricing plan 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.”