Thursday, December 27, 2018

Congress Appears to Give Up on Ending Shutdown
Republicans and Democrats look more dug in now than they were a week ago.

12/27/2018 05:20 PM EST

The 115th Congress essentially gave up on trying to reopen the government on Thursday, with both the Senate and House closing out the session just minutes after opening it, and leaving the political crisis for the next Congress to solve.

The House session ended in a bout of shouting as Democrats tried to get the chamber to pass a bill funding the government — but not President Donald Trump's border wall. The Senate session consisted of Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) setting up next week's schedule and asking an empty room whether anyone objected. And the White House, for its part, blasted out a new statement attacking Democrats over their opposition to the border wall.

The effort seemed to reflect a lack of enthusiasm among members to end an almost week-long shutdown affecting a quarter of the government, with not even congressional leaders nor the party faithful trying to pin the blame on the other side.

The impasse seems almost certain to continue until Jan. 3, when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ascends to the role of speaker under a new Democratic majority. Until then, Republicans have only a slim hope that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) can consummate a deal with Trump or Vice President Mike Pence, with negotiations going almost totally silent.

"We have not been able to reach agreement," said Roberts, the only senator in town on Thursday as well as on Christmas Eve. "I hope that we can come up with something that can get this solved. That resides squarely with my good friend Chuck Schumer and the leadership here to present the president with a number he can agree with."

Party leaders are now gaming out how the new Democratic House will react to the shutdown and there are increasing worries that the funding lapse will persist for weeks, potentially deep into January. On MSNBC, outgoing Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) said plainly: “I don't see a scenario where the government opens back up until a new Congress is sworn in."

In theory, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) could call Congress into session before Pelosi takes over. But those hopes have just about run out, so some lawmakers are taking things into their own hands.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the incoming House Rules Committee Chairman, tried to bring up a bill reopening the government on the House floor Thursday afternoon. But Republicans gaveled the Massachusetts Democrat down as he yelled to an empty gallery, “Mr. speaker 800,000 federal employees don’t know whether they will get paid! Mr. Speaker!”

“Vital departments of our government are in limbo because of this manufactured government, and I couldn’t even get recognized!” McGovern said afterwards. He later added: “The American people understand that this is an urgent matter, the only people who don’t seem to be in any hurry are the Republican leadership and the president. It’s just ridiculous.”

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, said: "Democrats will act swiftly to end the Trump Shutdown" after taking over the House. He added that they will not support Trump's "immoral, ineffective and expensive wall."

Hammill's statement followed a stern statement from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, who dinged Democrats for not returning Pence's offers that would have included roughly more money for fencing than the Democrats' $1.3 billion stance.

"The only rational conclusion is that the Democrat party is openly choosing to keep our government closed to protect illegal immigrants rather than the American people. The president does not want the government to remain shut down, but he will not sign a proposal that does not first prioritize our county’s safety and security," Sanders said.

There's been little discussion between the White House and Democrats in recent days, according to people in both parties, and the two sides appear more entrenched than they were a week ago.

“The president continues to push proposals to fund the ineffective and expensive wall, which he knows can’t pass the Senate,” said Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Schumer.

“For the White House to try and blame anyone but the president for this shutdown doesn’t pass the laugh test.”

He added that the two sides are still “very far” away from a compromise.

Trump arrived back in the United States on Thursday after a surprise post-Christmas visit to American troops in Iraq and Germany and was pleased by the news coverage of his trip, which temporarily displaced shutdown headlines, according to a White House official. After a Twitter respite during his 36 hours abroad, he was back at it Thursday, accusing the Democrats of abandoning their base and asserting in tweet that most of the federal workers affected during the shutdown are Democrats.

"Democrat’s say they don’t want the Wall (even though they know it is really needed), and they don’t want ICE. They don’t have much to campaign on, do they? An Open Southern Border and the large scale crime that comes with such stupidity!" Trump added on Thursday afternoon.

Republicans said they've heard nothing new about a potential resolution from Schumer, whose Democratic minority can block any funding bill with a filibuster. Schumer had been negotiating with Vice President Mike Pence last weekend, to no avail. The Senate will only vote on a funding bill once there is agreement with the House to pass a bill and a commitment from the president to sign it.

"Not much is happening in Washington," conceded Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) on Fox News.

Compared with the last extended shutdown in 2013, this episode is remarkably low-key. The closure covers only a quarter of the government, and it's hitting during the holidays, when many federal workers and lawmakers are off of work. What's more, members of Congress are doing comparatively little messaging compared to the impasse of five years ago, when conservatives tried to defund Obamacare and eventually GOP leaders blinked.

There have been almost no press conferences in recent days aimed at pinning the blame on the opposition, which could be in vain anyway since Trump said he'd be "proud" to own the shutdown (before subsequently trying to pin it on Democrats).

In the void of traditional congressional partisan messaging, including Republican leaders who might moderate the president's tone, Trump has continued his offensive — and he has been egged on by supporters who encouraged him to shut down the government in the first place.

On his radio show on Monday, Rush Limbaugh urged the president hold his ground until Democrats take control of the House in early January: "I want the president to hold firm on this, this shutdown is one that the Democrats own."

Limbaugh played a key role in convincing Trump to shut down the government over the border wall, expressing disappointment that the president was at one point prepared to sign a continuing resolution to fund the government through early February. Trump eventually sent him a personal assurance that he would not yield in his demands and was willing to shut down the government over them.

Now there is almost no incentive for Democrats to compromise right now in the final days of unified GOP rule. Their hand will strengthen considerably when Pelosi becomes speaker, and she can send over funding bills shorting the border wall and see how McConnell deals with it.

Rebecca Morin and Eli Okun contributed to this report.

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