Government shutdown likely to extend into next year as Trump and Congress fail to break border wall stalemate

  • President Donald Trump criticizes Democrats over his border wall proposal as a partial government shutdown enters its sixth day.
  • Only some lawmakers returned to Washington from their holiday break Thursday, and no votes are scheduled yet.
President Donald Trump speaks at a military briefing during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26, 2018.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
President Donald Trump speaks at a military briefing during an unannounced trip to Al Asad Air Base in Iraq on December 26, 2018.

President Donald Trump scolded Democrats over his proposed border wall Thursday as a partial government shutdown carried into its sixth day with no signs of a deal to end it.

Only some lawmakers returned to Washington from their holiday break Thursday, when the Senate convened briefly at 4 p.m. ET. But Congress has so far failed to break an impasse over the president's demand for $5 billion to build the barrier, and no votes are scheduled yet.

Barring quick and unexpected progress, the stalemate will likely last into the new year, and potentially until after Democrats take a House majority on Jan. 3. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise advised GOP members Thursday not to expect a vote this week, according to NBC News. The Senate will not hold another session with the potential for votes until Jan. 2. Lawmakers will get 24 hours notice before any vote on a deal to end the shutdown.

The White House and congressional leaders still appear far from ending the stalemate even as hundreds of thousands of federal workers face furloughs or temporarily work without pay.

After he returned to Washington from a surprise visit to U.S. military service members in Iraq and Germany, Trump quickly turned his attention back to the immigration fight. In a tweet, he questioned whether Democrats have "finally realized that we desperately need Border Security and a Wall on the Southern Border." He suggested federal workers damaged by the shutdown support Democrats, asking: "Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?"

It was unclear what evidence exactly Trump was using to show federal employees are Democrats. But 95 percent of campaign contributions from federal employees in the 2016 presidential election went to Trump's Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, according to The Hill.

In subsequent tweets Thursday, Trump accused Democrats of "obstruction" in blocking money for the wall. He also contended that the party wants an "Open Southern Border" — which Democratic leaders have repeatedly said they do not want.

The comments Thursday, combined with remarks the president made Wednesday, indicate he has little desire to back down from his demand even as nine federal departments remain unfunded. With Democrats pledging not to put money toward a project they call immoral and ineffective, the impasse looks no closer to breaking.

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a Thursday statement that Trump "does not want the government to remain shut down, but he will not sign a proposal that does not first prioritize our country's safety and security." She argued that the White House offered a "reasonable, common sense solution" to Democrats on Saturday — a proposal that reportedly came out of a meeting between Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. The Democratic leader rejected an offer that reportedly included more than the $1.6 billion for border security he has publicly said he would accept.

Responding to the White House on Thursday, Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said Democrats offered the GOP three options to keep the government running. He said they "all include funding for strong, sensible and effective border security" but not Trump's "immoral, ineffective and expensive wall." Democrats "will act swiftly to end the Trump Shutdown" when they take the majority, he said.

House Democrats have promised to pass a short-term spending bill to reopen the government, without wall money, after Jan 3. But Trump could threaten to veto it, jeopardizing the chances of it getting through the GOP-held Senate.

Amid the border wall spat and furor over the death of an 8-year-old Guatemalan child in U.S. custody, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will visit the U.S.-Mexico border on Friday, according to NBC News.

Asked Wednesday in Iraq how long he would hold out to see his demands met, Trump responded: "Whatever it takes." He said Pelosi, who will likely become speaker in January, is "calling the shots."

Democrats appear uncertain about exactly how the president wants to spend that $5 billion. While Trump as a candidate called for a concrete barrier funded by Mexico, his demands have shifted. He has recently called for a wall, a "steel slat" barrier or a fence, "whatever [Democrats] want to call it."

Pelosi mocked the president's shifting descriptions in an interview with USA Today published this week.

"First of all, the fact ... that he says, 'We're going to build a wall with cement, and Mexico's going to pay for it' while he's already backed off of the cement – now he's down to, I think, a beaded curtain or something, I'm not sure where he is," she told the newspaper.

As the impasse continued Thursday, Sen. Dick Durbin — an Illinois Democrat and the No. 2 senator in his party — said he saw "no end in sight." In a tweet, he argued Trump has "taken our government hostage" over the wall, which he called "both wasteful and ineffective."

Senate Democrats have offered to put $1.6 billion toward constructing new or replacing existing fencing structures on the U.S.-Mexico border, but the White House wants more money. Meanwhile in the House, the party's liberal wing will resist putting any money toward the president's border security goals.

Trump has gone to great lengths to secure funding for the barrier, a core campaign promise that sparks chants among his supporters at political rallies. He sees it as a winning political issue. Earlier this month, the president said he would be "proud to shut down the government for border security."

About 800,000 federal workers were expected to be furloughed or work without pay during the shutdown. While Congress funded several departments, such as Defense and Health and Human Services, it did not pass spending bills for others, such as Homeland Security, Justice and State.

The shutdown started Saturday as the Senate and House passed differing spending bills but failed to agree on a unified plan that could get through both chambers. House Republicans shied away from a Senate-passed measure to keep the government running through Feb. 8 after Trump threatened to veto it. It did not include border wall funding.

The House then passed a bill with more than $5 billion for the barrier. It failed to get through the Senate.

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