Congress, pointing fingers, fails to reach deal as shutdown continues

WASHINGTON — The first day of a government shutdown ended no closer to an agreement than when it began, resulting in a stand-off with no clear solution in sight.

The two leaders, Republican Mitch McConnell and Democrat Chuck Schumer, have not spoken at all on Saturday, according to a spokesman for Schumer, indicating how dug in each side is.

As the stalemate persisted, groups of senators met on their own initiative to search for a solution. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., shuttled between the offices of McConnell and Schumer late Saturday evening, acting as liaisons.


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Day one of government shutdown stalemate with no DACA compromise3:43
Congress, pointing fingers, fails to reach deal as shutdown continues
Congress, pointing fingers, fails to reach deal as shutdown continues

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McConnell scheduled a vote on the only proposal on the table as of now: a three-week spending bill for 1 a.m. Monday. It’s unclear if the measure will obtain the 60 votes necessary.

Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats played the blame game Saturday as members of the House and Senate failed to find a clear path forward amid the partial government shutdown.

After the failure of the stop-gap measure Friday at midnight, the new version of the spending bill would last just three weeks, until Feb. 8, while the House convened Saturday in case the Senate passed a short-term government funding bill that would require a new vote in the chamber. They spent the afternoon in in vigorous debate over the shutdown.

But the real stalemate remains in the Senate, where the two parties have yet to reach agreement.

The politics of which party is blamed for a government shutdown are also in full effect as President Donald Trump’s campaign released a politically explosive and divisive campaign ad and Trump referenced the 2018 midterm elections in a series of tweets.

A breakdown of trust between negotiators, particularly Schumer and the president, has played a major role in the current stalemate.

“Negotiating with President Trump is like negotiating with Jell-O,” Schumer said after negotiations broke down on Friday after a meeting with Trump.

The latest from Capitol Hill

  • What’s happening: Senators appear no closer to an agreement on how to open the government.
  • What’s on the table: A short-term spending bill that lasts just three weeks, until Feb. 8. It would extend CHIP for six years and suspends some Obamacare taxes.
  • Why Feb. 8? Sen. Lindsey Graham argues that three weeks is short enough to keep momentum on negotiations over a series of issues: DACA, CHIP, disaster aid, spending levels for a two-year spending bill and Alexander-Murray insurance market stabilization.
  • What’s next? Graham says that McConnell promised him a vote on a bipartisan immigration bill, even if the president doesn’t support it, if the talks between Sens. McCarthy, Cornyn, Durbin and Hoyer break down.
  • What Democrats say: Democrats left a caucus meeting with no clear strategy for what’s next.
  • What else: A bipartisan group of senators are meeting to try and figure out a way forward as well. The Senate and House have adjourned for the day, with plans to return Sunday.

The senator said that he offered Trump his border wall as a concession to seek movement on “Dreamers” who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, but later in the day on Friday Trump backed off the discussions.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said at a White House press briefing on Saturday that Schumer’s offer for the border wall was $1.6 billion, an amount that Trump had previously rejected as not enough.

Schumer fired back, telling NBC News that Mulvaney wasn’t in the room and “doesn’t know the truth.”

“[Trump] put a number on the table and we took it,” Schumer told NBC News. Schumer’s spokesman, Matt House, said the number was “way, way north” of $1.6 billion.

McConnell said Schumer is blaming everyone but himself.

“Like the president, like the House, and like a bipartisan majority of senators, the American people want long-term solutions on immigration policy. On government spending. On all the major issues we’ve been discussing for months — and will continue to discuss,” McConnell said.

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McConnell: We will be here ‘as long as it takes’ to end shutdown3:15

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Trump has been on the phone throughout the day with aides, McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, but it’s unclear if McConnell and Schumer have spoken. Aides to both offices have not responded to questions about it.


Some Democrats, however, are starting to quietly wonder where this goes.

“I’m concerned that we don’t have an exit strategy,” one Democratic aide for a liberal senator told NBC News. “I think that it seems naive to think that Republicans will do the right thing here and compromise.”

“This is a question of who’s going to flinch first,” the aide said.

Meanwhile, as leadership can’t come to an agreement, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, organized a meeting Saturday afternoon to discuss a solution. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., said after the meeting that the group of about 15 senators are hoping to present three plans to leadership.

A three-week option floated by McConnell early Saturday morning is the latest offer on the table, but many Democrats think a three or four week spending bill is just a stalling tactic to avoid negotiating on the myriad of issues, especially DACA, but also disaster aid and government spending levels, both parties have yet to agree upon.

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who was one of four Republicans to vote against the funding bill Friday, is attempting to persuade his colleagues to consider the short-term continuing resolution McConnell proposed.

“After my discussions with numerous senators on both sides of the last night it is clear to me a commitment to move to immigration after February 8th is the key to ending the government shutdown and finding resolution on all the outstanding issues,” Graham said on Twitter, part of a string of tweets outlining his support for the offer.

Leader McConnell mentioned last night he was willing to make a proposal for a CR through February 8 and seek resolution on immigration, disaster relief, military and government funding, CHIP, and other health care related issues. I would support such a proposal.

— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) January 20, 2018

But many Democrats say they want more than McConnell’s word that he’s “willing” to move forward on such issues. They say they want tangible progress.

“February is longer than what I want,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D_Va., who represents hundreds of thousands of federal workers who live in Virginia. “Depending on the commitments they make, that could be good. Well, if it’s just February 8 and just another delay, that’s not going to be acceptable.”


President Donald Trump used his early-morning tweets to claim that Democrats are harming the military in favor of protecting Dreamers.

Democrats are holding our Military hostage over their desire to have unchecked illegal immigration. Can’t let that happen!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 20, 2018

And he made it a campaign issue as well, tweeting that the 60-vote threshold in the Senate to pass legislation “is why we need to win more Republicans in ’18.” His campaign also released an explosive campaign ad highlighting an undocumented immigrant charged with killing two police officers.

And House Speaker Paul Ryan said on the House floor that Senate Democrats are “deliberately holding our government hostage.”

“They oppose a bill they don’t even oppose,” Ryan said.

But House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi pointed a finger at the president, whose tweets and pronouncements in the days leading up to the shutdown caused confusion even among members of his own party about what the White House wanted.

“Last night, on the eve of the first anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration, President Trump earned an ‘F’ for leadership,” Pelosi said.

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JAN. 19: Republicans and Democrats blame each other for government shutdown2:58

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Trump, for his part, has postponed a planned trip to his private resort in Palm Beach, Florida, where he had been set to attend a pricey, one-year anniversary party for his presidency.

According to a source familiar with the planning of the event, the fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago will still go on as planned and the president’s elder sons — Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — will attend.

The White House says the president will not travel to Florida until some kind of deal is reached to reopen the government.

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