WASHINGTON — The president and vice president visited, Capitol Police shut down halls for security and reporters swarmed Republican senators seeking any hint of progress. It seemed urgent, but for all the activity, nothing was accomplished. A later White House negotiating session with congressional leaders ended in acrimony.
As the partial government shutdown enters its 20th day Thursday, President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders appear only more entrenched.
In the government equivalent of a burning house, the firefighters are on the scene with their axes and helmets — but haven’t deployed the hoses.
“I think it’s safe to say we didn’t make any progress today,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) told Fox News on Wednesday.
He said that after a contentious White House meeting that reportedly began with Trump offering candy to Democratic leaders, and ended soon after with the president storming out.
Trump called the session “a total waste of time.”
“I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier?,” the president tweeted. “Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!”
Democrats said Trump specifically demanded funding for his long-promised wall along the southern border (which he had pledged Mexico would fund) and walked out when they refused to support federal money for the project.
“We saw a temper tantrum because he couldn’t get his way,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said after the blow up.
The growing bitterness in Washington came as the shutdown threatened to bite even deeper into federal agencies and workers. Some 800,000 government employees have been affected, and are expected to miss their first paychecks Friday.
Rep. Dwight Evans, a Philadelphia Democrat, tweeted out a video of a Philadelphia woman who works for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. She worried about paying her mortgage and her child’s student loans.
“I need my job,” she told Evans in the video. “I have the American dream, but my American dream is slipping through my fingers through no fault of my own, and it’s not fair, it’s really not fair.”
Labor leaders representing federal workers joined Schumer and Pelosi at a news conference where the union officials said some of their members make $500 to $700 a week, leaving them with little cushion if they miss a check.
Single mothers are being forced to work without pay, while still on the hook for gas and child-care costs, said Eric Young, president of the Council of Prison Locals C-33, which represents federal prison employees.
Trump and other Republicans, meanwhile, accused Democrats of forsaking security at the southern border in order to deny him an achievement.
“Their objection is purely political. Their extreme left wing base hates President Trump and the reason we’re in a shutdown is because Schumer and Pelosi are captive of their extreme left wing base,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas).
Trump, after delivering a nationally televised Oval Office address Tuesday, planned to travel to the southern border in Texas Thursday in another symbolic move aimed at reinforcing his existing position.
Democrats point to Trump’s insistence on having $5.7 billion wall funding and his boast in December that he would be “proud” to shutter the government for security’s sake. They have refused to provide any money beyond the existing $1.3 billion for border security, and say the president brought on the crisis by abruptly scrapping a deal the Senate unanimously approved in December, and that the White House had seemed to support.
“I think we’ll get to an end, I hope sooner rather than later,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) said after Trump met with GOP senators.
What will that end look like?
“I don’t know exactly.”
Do they have a strategy?
“I think they’re working on it.”
Toomey said he would “not at this point” support plans to fund the government without the wall money, which Democrats and a few Republicans have advocated. “I think we should get this resolved,” Toomey said.
While that approach won bipartisan Senate support last month, most Republicans have argued that it’s not worth advancing again because Trump has made it clear he won’t sign the measure.
One exception is Rep. Brian Fitzptatrick, of Bucks County, who has voted for funding bills without the wall spending. He did so again on Wednesday, when House Democrats put forward measures to reopen the government, knowing they would be blocked by the GOP-led Senate.
Democrats argued that they support border safeguards, but not the physical wall Trump promised.
“We all believe in border security, we just don’t agree on a wasteful wall that won’t achieve what the president misleadingly claims it will,” said Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.).
Throughout the day, the common phrase all over the Capitol was “dug in.”
One House Republican told the Washington Post, “we’re dug in. … We really believe in our souls that we have a responsibility to the American people to secure the border.”
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D., N.J.) told NPR, “We want to get the government open … but we're not going to give our souls away. We're not going to do that. We're going to stand pretty damn firm.”
As Sen. Tim Scott (R., S.C.) told freelance reporter Matt Laslo, “I think we’re going to be here a while.”