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 TrumpCensus Bureau intends to wrap up count on Oct. 5 despite judge's order Top House Republican calls for probe of source of NYT Trump tax documents New Yorkers report receiving ballots with wrong name, voter addresses 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 KaineFears grow of chaotic election Trump taps Amy Coney Barrett for Supreme Court, setting up confirmation sprint Supreme Court fight pushes Senate toward brink 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 CoonsThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by JobsOhio - Trump's tax return bombshell Coons: 'Defies comprehension' why Trump continues push to 'strip away' protections for pre-existing conditions Two Judiciary Democrats say they will not meet with Trump's Supreme Court pick 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) ManchinEnergy innovation bill can deliver jobs and climate progress The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by JobsOhio - Trump's tax return bombshell Sunday Shows: Trump's court pick dominates 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 CollinsTrump's Teflon problem: Nothing sticks, including the 'wins' Durbin: Democrats can 'slow' Supreme Court confirmation 'perhaps a matter of hours, maybe days at most' Senate GOP set to vote on Trump's Supreme Court pick before election MORE (R-Maine), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderPoll finds support for independent arbiters resolving 'surprise' medical bills Democratic Senate candidate in Tennessee discusses working-class background Pelosi urges early voting to counter GOP's high court gambit: 'There has to be a price to pay' MORE (R-Tenn.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSupreme Court fight should drive Democrats and help Biden Graham to meet with Trump's Supreme Court pick on Tuesday Democratic super PAC launches .5M ad campaign against Graham MORE (R-S.C.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanMcConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Romney undecided on authorizing subpoenas for GOP Obama-era probes Congress needs to prioritize government digital service delivery MORE (R-Ohio), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerFBI director casts doubt on concerns over mail-in voting fraud Democrats call for declassifying election threats after briefing by Trump officials It's time to upgrade benefits MORE (D-Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerBreaking the Chinese space addiction Trump dumbfounds GOP with latest unforced error Billionaire who donated to Trump in 2016 donates to Biden MORE (R-Colo.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinPelosi hopeful COVID-19 relief talks resume 'soon' Congress must finish work on popular conservation bill before time runs out PPP application window closes after coronavirus talks deadlock  MORE (D-Md.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiEnergy innovation bill can deliver jobs and climate progress Durbin: Democrats can 'slow' Supreme Court confirmation 'perhaps a matter of hours, maybe days at most' Senate GOP set to vote on Trump's Supreme Court pick before election MORE (R-Alaska) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisPoll: Biden, Trump tied in North Carolina Graham neck and neck with challenger in South Carolina Senate race: poll Trump's Teflon problem: Nothing sticks, including the 'wins' 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 CornynTrump, GOP aim to complete reshaping of federal judiciary Fears grow of chaotic election Supreme Court fight pushes Senate toward brink 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 PelosiAirline industry applauds Democrats for including aid in coronavirus relief package Democrats unveil scaled-down .2T coronavirus relief package Trump tax reveal roils presidential race 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.”