Centrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter

Efforts by centrist lawmakers to break away from their party leaders and build a compromise that would end the government shutdown are floundering.

The failure to reach a consensus outside of leadership is another indication that the shutdown won’t end unless a deal is struck by the principals: Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGiuliani pens op-ed slamming 'unprecedented' impeachment inquiry Brindisi, Lamb recommended for Armed Services, Transportation Committees Overnight Health Care: Top health official defends contract payments to Trump allies | Vaping advocates confident Trump will turn from flavor ban | Sanders gets endorsement from nurses union MORE (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDivided Supreme Court leans toward allowing Trump to end DACA Ilhan Omar blasts Pete King as an 'Islamophobe' after he announces retirement: 'Good riddance' Top Senate Dem: Officials timed immigration policy around 2020 election MORE (D-N.Y.) and President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE.

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The centrists’ idea was straightforward and simple: Write a letter urging Trump to reopen the government for three weeks and, in that time, negotiate a compromise on border security.

But Trump earlier this week said he rejected a similar idea, and Vice President Pence informed GOP senators the White House opposed the plan.

Senate Republicans say the letter-writing effort wasn’t helped by the fact that Schumer urged House Democrats at a caucus meeting Wednesday to pressure Senate Republicans to sign the letter.

As of Wednesday afternoon, only a handful of Senate Republicans and Democrats had signed the letter to Trump, and it was uncertain whether the missive would even be sent.

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 (D-W.Va.), who has signed the letter and attended bipartisan meetings in hopes of finding a breakthrough, said the goal is to have 20 lawmakers in each conference — Republican and Democratic — sign the letter.

But the effort fell far short of that ambitious goal. One Republican aide said the letter had 10 signatures on Wednesday afternoon, but cautioned the number is in flux.

Sen. 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.), a key lawmaker who faces a tough reelection in 2020, said Wednesday afternoon that he would not sign it, expressing doubt it would lead to a positive result.

“My concern is we haven’t — beyond just acknowledging the president’s request — we really haven’t set any parameters,” he said. “Without some sort of agreement in principle on what would be on the table for negotiated settlement, I just don’t see it producing a productive outcome.”

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A draft of the letter asks Trump to join the bipartisan group of senators “in supporting a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) of three weeks to give Congress time to develop and vote on a broad bipartisan agreement that addresses your request.” The senators pledge “during those three weeks, we will make our best efforts following regular order in the appropriate committees and mark up bipartisan legislation related to your request.”

Tillis, however, said three weeks would not be enough time to hash out a compromise, noting that Congress has debated illegal immigration and border security for years without much progress.

“Twenty-one days around here when you’re in these contentious situations is a very short period of time, particularly on a subject we’ve been debating for 40 years,” Tillis said.

Many Senate Republicans have argued for weeks that they want a clear indication from Democrats that Trump will get more money for border fencing in exchange for reopening the government.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyOn The Money: Trump seeks to shift spotlight from impeachment to economy | Appropriators agree to Dec. 20 funding deadline | New study says tariffs threaten 1.5M jobs Appropriators agree to Dec. 20 funding deadline Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate MORE (R-Ala.) told reporters that he would not sign the letter and said it “could be tilting at windmills,” although he conceded there’s a slim chance it might “move the Democrats in sitting down with Trump.”

“I think things look a little bleak right now,” he said.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGOP senators warn against Trump firing intelligence community official This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Senate panel clears controversial Trump court pick MORE (R-Maine), who hosted a few of her fellow Republican centrists in a meeting Wednesday morning to find an end to the shutdown, admitted “it’s been very hard to determine what is the magic elixir here.”

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterOvernight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Overnight Defense: Top diplomat changes testimony to indicate quid pro quo | Dem offers measure on Turkish human rights abuses in Syria | Warren offers plan to address veteran suicide rates Manchin says he wouldn't back Sanders against Trump in presidential race MORE (D-Mont.), another potential swing vote who represents a state Trump won by 20 points in 2016, said Wednesday that he hadn’t yet signed the letter and didn’t seem in a rush to join the effort: “I think what they’re trying to do is get a bipartisan group on. If I’m asked, I’ll sign on to it, but I’m not going to wedge my way in. I’ll let them do their work.”

One reason the organizers of the letter — Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham says Trump should be allowed to undo DACA order The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems, GOP dig in for public impeachment hearings The Hill's Morning Report - Witness transcripts plow ground for public impeachment testimony MORE (R-S.C.) and 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.) — may not have yet approached Tester is they’re trying to get colleagues to sign the letter in bipartisan pairs.

At the moment, there’s a shortage of GOP support in the face of opposition from Trump, as Tillis’s refusal to sign on shows.

Pelosi and Schumer, meanwhile, feel confident they are winning the public relations battle with Trump.

“An overwhelming majority of Americans think that the government should not be shut down over a wall. Even a substantial number of people who support the wall say don’t shut down the government to get the wall,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

A CNN poll released Wednesday showed Trump losing support among one of his most reliable constituencies, white Americans who don’t have college degrees.

The poll, conducted by SSRS, showed that only 45 percent of this demographic said they approved of Trump’s job performance, a drop from the 54 percent who said they approved of his job performance in early December, before the shutdown. A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday also showed Trump’s approval among white voters without college degrees ticking down slightly since the shutdown started last month. The survey showed Trump’s rating among this group dipping from 56 percent to 53 percent. 

Schumer highlighted Trump’s weakening numbers in a meeting with Democratic colleagues last week, according to a senator who participated.

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSunday shows — New impeachment phase dominates Brown confirms he won't enter 2020 race: 'I think it's a good field' GM officially sells Ohio plant, months after Trump touted sale MORE (D-Ohio), who is considering running for president, warned that if Democrats buckle, “Trump will do this again and again and again and again.”

Manchin on Wednesday said Schumer has neither encouraged nor discouraged the efforts by centrists to find a compromise.

“Not at all. Chuck hasn’t said a word,” he said.

“I’m sure he’s aware of the letter,” Manchin added. “And if he’d been objectionable, I’m sure I would have heard loudly and clearly.”

Jordain Carney contributed.