The House prepared to pass legislation Thursday that would reopen the federal government, but the partial shutdown is set to continue after President Trump vowed to veto the measure over its lack of funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Two Senate Republicans broke with Trump and party leaders Thursday, saying it was time to end the shutdown even if Democrats would not sign off on the more than $5 billion in border funding Trump is demanding.
The comments from Sens. Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Susan Collins (Maine) — the only two Senate Republicans who are up for re-election in 2020 in states Trump lost — pointed to cracks in the GOP strategy, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the Senate will only consider a plan that Trump supports.
“I think we should pass a continuing resolution to get the government back open. The Senate has done it last Congress, we should do it again today,” Gardner said, as the 116th Congress got under way with Democrats in control of the House.
Even if the legislation doesn’t have the border money Trump wants, Gardner said, “We can pass legislation that has the appropriations number in it while we continue to get more but we should continue to do our jobs and get the government open and let Democrats explain why they no longer support border security.”
Collins indicated support for an element of the Democrats’ approach, which is to advance a package of spending bills already approved in the Senate that would re-open the bulk of the government, while setting aside the fight over the wall in a separate piece of legislation.
“I’m not saying their whole plan is a valid plan, but I see no reason why the bills that are ready to go and on which we’ve achieved an agreement should be held hostage to this debate over border security,” said Collins, who is a senior member of the Appropriations Committee.
Trump has said he is opposed to both bills the House planned to pass later Thursday — one to reopen the bulk of government via a passage of six spending bills; and the other to extend Homeland Security Department funding at its current levels through Feb. 8, allowing lawmakers time to negotiate on border issues while the rest of the government is funded.
A veto threat issued Thursday by the White House read: “The Administration is committed to working with the Congress to reopen lapsed agencies, but cannot accept legislation that provides unnecessary funding for wasteful programs while ignoring the Nation’s urgent border security needs.”
Trump himself made an appearance in the White House briefing room, where, flanked by members of the union for border patrol agents, he said he has “never had so much support as I have in the last week over my stance on border security … and for, frankly, the wall, or the barrier.”
“Without a wall you cannot have border security,” Trump continued. “It won’t work.”
As the impasse dragged on, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said for the first time that the stalemate could continue for “months and months.”
Top congressional leaders plan to meet with Trump at the White House Friday, in a repeat of a meeting they had on Wednesday. But so far there are no signs of a breakthrough or any movement. The shutdown has lasted 13 days without any signs of compromise or earnest negotiations, with Democrats largely unifying and a number of Republicans flummoxed over Trump’s strategy.
The funding lapse has frozen the pay of 800,000 federal workers, many of which will miss their first paycheck beginning next week. Multiple national parks and museums have closed, and the impact is expected to become even more severe in the coming weeks.
Complicating matters for the White House, McConnell himself from the discussions. He advanced a short-term funding bill through the Senate with unanimous support last month only to have Trump later threaten to block the measure if it passed the House. This enraged some Republicans who had voted for the measure, believing that they had Trump’s backing.
Shelby’s comments reverberated throughout the country, as it marked the first time a top political figure estimated the shutdown could drag into the Spring.
“Hearing this from the chairman of the Senate appropriations committee is, quite candidly, a punch in the jaw of federal employees,” said Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents about 150,000 federal employees. “Their mental anguish and anxiety is bad enough. To hear this coming straight from congressional leaders does not instill a lot of hope.”
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to erect a wall along the Mexico border and have Mexico pay for it. He said terrorists, drugs, and criminals were coming to the United States through Mexico and needed to be stopped. This pledge proved very popular with many of his supporters.
Since taking over in 2017, Trump has continued to assert that a wall is needed but he has backed away from insisting that Mexico pay for it. He has instead said the money should come from U.S. taxpayers, an idea that has divided Republicans. But many Republicans, some reluctantly, have agreed to follow his lead during the current shutdown.
And though some Senate Republicans broke with Trump and leadership Thursday, others cautioned about what would happen if he caved on his signature promise.
“If he gives in now, that’s the end of 2019 in terms of him being an effective president,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham’s (R-S.C.) Wednesday during an interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity. “That’s probably the end of his presidency. Donald Trump has made a promise to the American people: He’s going to secure our border.”
— Lisa Rein and Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.