WASHINGTON ― The government shutdown is in its 25th day, and no one is even talking.
There is no deal in the offing, and neither Democrats nor Republicans have moved at all from their initial positions. Instead, Capitol Hill and the White House are stuck waiting for the other side to completely capitulate while neither side has shown any sign of budging.
President Donald Trump invited a group of moderate Democrats to the White House on Tuesday, but the group turned down the invitation, seeming to realize that Trump was mostly interested in dividing Democrats and looking like he was trying to make a deal.
The rejected invite served just as well for the White House. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made a show of the Democrats staying away, saying that Trump looked forward to a working lunch with House Republicans to “solve the border crisis and reopen the government.”
“It’s time for the Democrats to come to the table and make a deal,” Sanders said.
Meanwhile, a group of freshmen House Democrats tried a similar gimmick. They held a press conference Tuesday afternoon on reopening government and then led a march to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office, where they tried to urge the Kentucky Republican to hold a vote on a clean funding bill. (They were turned away.)
McConnell continues to block a vote on a funding bill without wall money, calling it a waste of time because Trump won’t sign it. While the Senate voted unanimously in December to fund the now-shuttered agencies, McConnell believes there aren’t even 60 votes to override a filibuster now that Trump is opposed to even a temporary bill without wall funding ― and until enough Senate Republicans publicly come out to say they’d support a clean bill, McConnell is unlikely to cross Trump.
The easiest solution to the shutdown ― where Trump declares a national emergency and tries to redirect money to the wall, Congress votes for clean spending bills, and then Trump’s moves are tied up in court for years ― was rejected Monday when the president said he didn’t want to go that route. That may be Trump realizing that such a declaration would not actually get him a border wall, but it would at least get him out of the shutdown without giving in to Democrats.
Trump may yet end up declaring a national emergency and trying to get his wall that way, but for now he still wants to try to strike a deal the more traditional way. He just doesn’t seem to have realized that Democrats aren’t giving in.
The reality is that no one is negotiating. There is no compromise ― and it’s looking less likely that there ever will be one.
The Democratic position is that $0 should go to the wall. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) recently said she could agree to $1, but that was just a trolling remark. At this point, even if Trump offered an extension of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals immigration program for border wall money, Democrats would have difficulty taking the deal. Many don’t trust Trump, and many have called the wall “a monument to racism.”
Democrats also say giving the president a border wall at this point ― at any price ― would be rewarding his shutdown temper tantrum.
Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) told HuffPost on Tuesday that any compromise now would be “legitimizing a tactic of shutting down government to achieve a legislative end.”
“That is, in principle, wrong,” Takano said.
Democrats want Trump to extend government funding, and they don’t want to pay a ransom. They believe voters mostly blame Trump and Republicans for the shutdown ― which is true, according to the most recent polls ― and they see the politics of the shutdown just getting worse for Republicans, as more than 800,000 federal workers go without pay and a slew of government programs are either shuttered or slowed to a crawl.
Workers have already missed one paycheck, and they’ll miss their next soon. (Payday varies across agencies, but the shutdown started on Dec. 22, and some workers will miss their second check next week.)
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps, is using leftover money to cover February, but the program could run dry in March. Because of the shutdown at the Food and Drug Administration, food inspections are more sparse. Transportation Security Administration agents and air traffic controllers are not being paid ― and could at any moment go on strike, grounding most air travel.
And just as Democrats are stuck on $0 for the wall, Trump is stuck on $5.7 billion. Two weeks ago, the day after Vice President Mike Pence tried to negotiate on Capitol Hill by floating a number closer to $2 billion, Trump clarified that he wanted the full amount.
Republicans on Capitol Hill say they believe Trump would take less, but when you ask why Trump hasn’t come down from his original ask, they point to Democrats not moving off their position.
“They don’t want to give a dollar, and I don’t know that anybody believes no border security is good,” House Freedom Caucus member Scott Perry (R-Pa.) told HuffPost on Tuesday, ignoring the fact that the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill includes billions for border security that isn’t a wall― including $16 billion alone for the Customs and Border Protection agency. (The Senate actually included $1.6 billion for “pedestrian fencing” in their bill late last year, though that might now be a tough sell to House Democrats.)
Still, Republicans believe Democrats aren’t negotiating at all, and they think that position is untenable.
Democrats counter that they’ve already negotiated. They point to the concessions they’ve already made on appropriations bills and say, again, that to negotiate now would be immoral and counterproductive.
That doesn’t leave much room for a solution.
In Perry’s words, “There’s not a lot of common ground. I don’t know what changes the game.”