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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 TrumpTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot Intelligence community investigating links between lawmakers, Capitol rioters Michelle Obama slams 'partisan actions' to 'curtail access to ballot box' 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 KaineRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Overnight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Biden called off second military target in Syria minutes before strike: report 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 CoonsChris Andrew CoonsBipartisan group of senators introduces bill to rein in Biden's war powers Democrats worry Senate will be graveyard for Biden agenda Khashoggi fiancée: Not punishing Saudi crown prince would be 'stain on our humanity' 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) ManchinOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Progressives won't oppose bill over limits on stimulus checks Senate votes to take up COVID-19 relief bill 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 CollinsMurkowski votes with Senate panel to advance Haaland nomination OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior reverses Trump policy that it says restricted science | Collins to back Haaland's Interior nomination | Republicans press Biden environment nominee on Obama-era policy Republicans, please save your party MORE (R-Maine), Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderCongress addressed surprise medical bills, but the issue is not resolved Trump renominates Judy Shelton in last-ditch bid to reshape Fed Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes MORE (R-Tenn.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Here's who Biden is now considering for budget chief House Democratic leaders back Shalanda Young for OMB after Tanden withdrawal MORE (R-S.C.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanMandel gets Club for Growth nod in Ohio Senate primary Rick Scott caught in middle of opposing GOP factions Five takeaways from dramatic Capitol security hearing MORE (R-Ohio), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships On The Money: Senate votes to take up COVID-19 relief bill | Stocks sink after Powell fails to appease jittery traders | February jobs report to provide first measure of Biden economy Senators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China MORE (D-Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Cory GardnerCory GardnerBiden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court rules against fast-track of Trump EPA's 'secret science' rule | Bureau of Land Management exodus: Agency lost 87 percent of staff in Trump HQ relocation | GM commits to electric light duty fleet by 2035 MORE (R-Colo.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinSenate GOP will force clerks to read bill to delay COVID-19 relief vote OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine Biden tells Senate Democrats to stick together, quickly pass coronavirus relief MORE (D-Md.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships Senate votes to take up COVID-19 relief bill The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Increased security on Capitol Hill amid QAnon's March 4 date MORE (R-Alaska) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisMcConnell backs Garland for attorney general GOP senators demand probe into Cuomo's handling of nursing home deaths CNN anchor confronts GOP chairman over senator's vote to convict Trump 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 CornynOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Senators introduce bill creating technology partnerships to compete with China Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal 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 PelosiOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Top Republican: 'Outrageous' to extend National Guard deployment at Capitol Progressives won't oppose bill over limits on stimulus checks 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.”