The federal government began to partially shut down early Saturday after President Donald Trump and congressional leaders failed to reach an agreement over border wall funding the president had demanded.
The House and Senate adjourned Friday night with no deal in sight, after the Senate reached an agreement stipulating that it would not vote on a spending bill unless it has the backing of Trump and congressional leaders from both parties.
“It has forced everybody back to the table,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who helped broker the agreement, told The Daily Beast ahead of the third shutdown of Trump’s presidency. “It’s everybody’s fault if it doesn’t happen, and everybody’s success if it does happen.”
But as of Friday night, success had not materialized. And with just three days left before Christmas, there was little indication as to when or how negotiators would manage to find their way through the legislative impasse.
The Senate had approved a stopgap spending bill on Wednesday night that did not include the $5 billion that Trump had specifically demanded for a wall on the southern border. The House was set to follow suit the next day. But before lawmakers there could vote on it, Trump—under pressure from conservatives—told congressional Republicans he would not sign the Senate bill. And on Thursday night, the House passed a version more amenable to Trump, one that included around $5.7 billion for a border wall. But that proposal had no realistic chance of clearing the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.
Some Republicans were left bemoaning the president’s intransigence and negotiating style.
“The question is, do we succumb to tyranny of talk-radio show hosts?” said Corker, in reference to Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh, who both implored Trump to demand wall funding or risk a conservative backlash. “Are Republicans really going to trust the guidance that comes out of the White House on a go-forward basis? This is a juvenile place we find ourselves in. The reason we’re here, we have a couple talk-radio hosts that get the president spun up.”
Other Republicans directed their frustrations at Democrats, whom they said were not negotiating in good faith.
“It strikes me that [Democrats] just want to deny the president a victory. There are plenty of people on that side who voted for a wall on the border back in 2013,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told reporters.
The failure to reach an agreement sparked funding lapses at several agencies—including Commerce, Agriculture, NASA, and the departments of Transportation and Justice—and left federal workers facing the prospect of being furloughed during the holiday season.
Hoping to move his preferred legislative package forward, Trump on Friday called for the Senate to get rid of the filibuster, which would allow legislation to pass with a simple majority vote. But Senate Republicans soundly rejected him.
Shortly thereafter, the president met at the White House with those Senate Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). And later in the day he dispatched Vice President Mike Pence, incoming chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner to Capitol Hill to continue negotiations with House and Senate leaders. But deep divisions remained, as Democrats refused to give in to Trump’s border wall funding demands.
“As we said to President Trump a week ago, his wall does not have 60 votes here in the Senate, let alone 50 votes. That much is now clear,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said.
A political blame game is sure to ramp up. Despite Trump’s declaration last week that he would be “proud” to shut down the government over a border wall, he spent the day Friday blaming Democrats for the impending shutdown. Aides and advisers to the president said they expect the administration to launch an aggressive PR offensive placing blame for any nefarious, violent or illegal activity along the southern border at the feet of Democrats.
Democrats, for their part, will have new leverage in 2019. The party will take control of the House in January, after which it will be much more difficult for Trump to secure meaningful funds for a border wall.
The wall was one of Trump’s central 2016 campaign promises. During the campaign, he repeatedly pledged that Mexico would pay for it.
—Sam Stein contributed reporting.