WASHINGTON — The partial government shutdown will almost certainly be handed off to a divided government to solve in the new year, as both parties traded blame Friday and President Donald Trump sought to raise the stakes in the weeklong impasse.
As agreement eludes Washington in the waning days of the Republican monopoly on power, it sets up the first big confrontation between Trump and newly empowered Democrats. Trump is sticking with his demand for money to build a border wall with Mexico, and Democrats, who take control of the House on Jan. 3, are refusing to give him what he wants.
Trump raised the stakes on Friday, reissuing threats to shut the U.S.-Mexico border to pressure Congress to fund the wall and to shut off aid to three Central American countries from which many migrants have fled.
“We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely if the Obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall & also change the ridiculous immigration laws that our Country is saddled with,” he wrote in one of a series of tweets.
The president also signaled he was in no rush to seek a resolution, welcoming the fight as he heads toward his own bid for re-election in 2020. He tweeted Thursday evening that Democrats may be able to block him now, “but we have the issue, Border Security. 2020!”
Forcing Workers to Stay Home or Work Without Pay
The shutdown is forcing hundreds of thousands of federal workers and contractors to stay home or work without pay, and many are experiencing mounting stress from the impasse. It also is beginning to pinch citizens who count on certain public services. Gates are closed at some national parks, the government won’t issue new federal flood insurance policies and in New York, the chief judge of Manhattan federal courts suspended work on civil cases involving U.S. government lawyers, including several civil lawsuits in which Trump himself is a defendant.
With another long holiday weekend coming and nearly all lawmakers away from the Capitol there is little expectation of a quick fix.
“We are far apart,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told CBS on Friday, claiming of Democrats, “They’ve left the table all together.”
Incoming acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Democrats are no longer negotiating with the administration over an earlier offer to accept less than the $5 billion Trump wants for the wall. Democrats said the White House offered $2.5 billion for border security, but that Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told Vice President Mike Pence it wasn’t acceptable.
“There’s not a single Democrat talking to the president of the United States about this deal,” Mulvaney said Friday. Speaking on Fox News, he tried to drive a wedge between Democrats, pinning the blame on Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
“My gut was that (Schumer) was really interested in doing a deal and coming to some sort of compromise. But the more we’re hearing this week is that it’s Nancy Pelosi who’s preventing that from happening,” he said.
Brushing off White House Attempt to Cast Blame
Mulvaney added of the shutdown: “We do expect this to go on for a while.” He said Trump had canceled his plans to travel to Florida for New Year’s.
Democrats brushed off the White House’s attempt to cast blame.
“For the White House to try and blame anyone but the president for this shutdown doesn’t pass the laugh test,” said Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer.
Pelosi has vowed to pass legislation as soon as she takes the gavel, which is expected when the new Congress convenes, to reopen the nine shuttered departments and dozens of agencies now hit by the partial shutdown.
“If they can’t do it before Jan. 3, then we will do it,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., incoming chairman of the Rules Committee. “We’re going to do the responsible thing. We’re going to behave like adults and do our job.”
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill added that Democrats “are united against the President’s immoral, ineffective and expensive wall” and said Democrats won’t seriously consider any White House offer unless Trump backs it publicly because he “has changed his position so many times.”
“While we await the President’s public proposal, Democrats have made it clear that, under a House Democratic Majority, we will vote swiftly to re-open government on Day One,” Hammill said in a statement.
Senate Remains in Republican Hands
But even that may be difficult without a compromise because the Senate will remain in Republican hands and Trump’s signature will be needed to turn any bill into law.
“I think it’s obvious that until the president decides he can sign something — or something is presented to him — that we are where we are,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who opened the Senate on Thursday for a session that only lasted minutes.
“Call it anything,” he added, “barrier, fence, I won’t say the ‘w’ word.”
Trump long promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico refuses to do so. It was unclear how Trump’s threat to close the border would affect his efforts to ratify an amended North American free trade pact.
He has also repeatedly threatened to cut off U.S. aid to countries he deems insufficient partners in combating illegal immigration, but has thus far failed to follow through with those threats. Experts have warned that cutting off aid money to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras could actually exacerbate the problem by worsening the poverty and violence that push many migrants to leave those countries.
And it is Congress, not the president, which appropriates aid money. The White House would have to notify Congress if it wanted to cut or reallocate aid, which could delay or complicate the process.