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 TrumpChelsea Clinton announces birth of third child Ukrainian officials and Giuliani are sharing back-channel campaign information: report Trump attacks 'the Squad' as 'racist group of troublemakers' 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 KaineOvernight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Health care moves to center stage of Democratic primary fight | Sanders, Biden trade sharps jabs on Medicare for All | Senate to vote on 9/11 bill next week | Buttigieg pushes for cheaper insulin Health care moves to center stage in Democratic primary fight Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress 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 CoonsDemocrats pledge to fight Trump detention policy during trip to border Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Senate Democrats skipping Pence's border trip 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) ManchinPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand 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 CollinsPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers struggle to understand Facebook's Libra project | EU hits Amazon with antitrust probe | New cybersecurity concerns over census | Robocall, election security bills head to House floor | Privacy questions over FaceApp Trump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report MORE (R-Maine), Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderFinding a path forward to end surprise medical billing The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke Republicans make U-turn on health care MORE (R-Tenn.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony Democrats should rise above and unify against Trump's tweets US-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' MORE (R-S.C.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanFighting the opioid epidemic: Congress can't just pass laws, but must also push to enforce them The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet Rising number of GOP lawmakers criticize Trump remarks about minority Dems MORE (R-Ohio), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerElection security to take back seat at Mueller hearing Top Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Senate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime MORE (D-Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony Trump angry more Republicans haven't defended his tweets: report The Hill's Morning Report - A raucous debate on race ends with Trump admonishment MORE (R-Colo.), Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinCan new US Strategy on Women, Peace & Security give women a real seat at the table? Ask Afghan women Maryland lawmakers slam 'despicable' Trump remark about journalists on newsroom shooting anniversary Democrats leery of Sanders plan to cancel student loan debt MORE (D-Md.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Overnight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse MORE (R-Alaska) and Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisRepublicans scramble to contain Trump fallout McConnell says Trump is not a racist, but calls for better rhetoric GOP senator: 'Outrageous' to say Trump's tweets about Democratic congresswomen are racist 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 CornynGOP wants commitment that Trump will sign budget deal Hillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Senators introduce legislation to boost cyber defense training in high school 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 PelosiPelosi, Mnuchin reach 'near-final agreement' on budget, debt ceiling Wendy Davis launches bid for Congress in Texas Steyer calls on Pelosi to cancel 'six-week vacation' for Congress 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.”