President Donald Trump closed off the only live negotiation on Capitol Hill to resolve the partial federal government shutdown, now poised to become the longest in US history, just as about 800,000 federal workers are set to miss their first paychecks.
Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday publicly rejected a push by Senate Republican moderates to entice Democrats with a deal that would protect young undocumented immigrants from deportation in addition to funding a border wall. The move appeared to increase the probability that Trump will declare a national emergency on the border and circumvent Congress to fund a wall.
One close Trump ally, Republican Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, said late Thursday that the declaration was “inevitable.”
Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Thursday that he would “see what happens over the next few days” but would “likely” invoke emergency powers if he doesn’t reach a deal with Democrats.
By scuttling talks led by GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, the president backed himself further into a political corner. Increasingly, Trump’s only exit and perhaps even his preferred choice appears to be declaring an emergency, an act some in his own party oppose.
“I have never been more depressed about moving forward,” Graham, a South Carolina Republican and close Trump ally, declared after talks over a broader deal collapsed. Later, Graham called on Trump to resort to emergency powers.
“I hope it works,” he said in a statement.
The White House has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to examine a February 2018 emergency spending bill, which included disaster relief for Puerto Rico and other areas, to see what funds could be diverted to a border wall, according to a congressional aide who asked for anonymity to discuss private briefings by the administration.
The shutdown’s pain is set to escalate dramatically Friday, with judges, law enforcement officers, NASA engineers, weather forecasters and office staff among those who won’t be paid.
Trump said Thursday that he has the “absolute right” to declare a national emergency to build the wall and would likely do so if he can’t strike a deal with Congress. But even that might not reopen the government.
“There is no indication from him that he would green-light us to vote for these bills after making that declaration,” Meadows said.
Over the course of the past three weeks, the White House has left both Republicans and Democrats with the impression that the president isn’t actually trying to negotiate.
First, Trump said no to scaling back the $5.7 billion he wants for construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border, kneecapping Pence’s early effort to test Democrats’ appetite for a smaller number. Pence on Thursday again refused to publicly acknowledge that he made an offer congressional aides say amounted to about $2.5 billion for border security.
Democrats, freshly in control of the House of Representatives, don’t feel pressure to give in, especially because Trump said in December he would be proud to own a shutdown resulting from the dispute over wall funding.
Insults and Accusations
In place of an olive branch to the Democrats, Trump has offered insults and accusations, and on Wednesday stormed out of a meeting with congressional leaders that he called at the White House. He has even threatened to cut off federal emergency funds for fighting wildfires in California, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home state.
The president also hasn’t attempted to court swing-district Democratic lawmakers and pressure Pelosi to cut a deal.
Earlier Thursday, Graham and some other Senate Republicans saw the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an Obama-era suspension of deportations of young undocumented immigrants, as a potential fulcrum for a deal. Trump tried to cancel the program, calling it executive overreach, but was blocked by a federal judge. Democrats would like to pass legislation granting the young immigrants permanent residency and a pathway to citizenship.
But on Thursday, Pence ruled out including a DACA fix in a shutdown deal, saying the administration is “confident” the Supreme Court will find DACA unconstitutional and first wants the legal case to be resolved. The Supreme Court hasn’t taken the case or indicated that it will.
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