WASHINGTON — In most of the recent government standoffs, Republicans from the moderate Philadelphia suburbs have felt pressure to break ranks and support a compromise.
But nearly four weeks into the longest federal government shutdown ever, it’s a different story for the newly elected Democrats who now represent the same areas. The new class is holding firm to its party’s line: no negotiations over President Donald Trump’s promised border wall until the government reopens.
“The majority of the people I’m hearing from ... feel strongly that the important thing is to open the government and to deal with the border security issue separately, which is my personal feeling," said Rep. Susan Wild, who won a previously Republican-held seat in the Lehigh Valley. “I don’t think these two issues belong together.”
Aside from Rep. Jeff Van Drew of South Jersey, the new Democratic House members from the Philadelphia region have adhered to the same thinking. They pointed to their votes, numerous times, to reopen the shuttered parts of the government, and urged the GOP-led Senate to take up the measures.
“If we set the precedent that if at any point in time we disagree with one another, we just shut the government down, that’s a dangerous precedent,” said Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, who flipped a GOP seat in Chester County. “That’s irresponsible and bad policy.”
She and the other new representatives said most constituents they hear from are simply demanding that the government be reopened. . And Trump’s public boasting about shutting down the government, strategists in both parties said, has left politically vulnerable Democrats with little pressure to give in.
“Trump has, to an almost comic level, gone out of his way to own this,” J.J. Balaban, a Democratic consultant from Philadelphia, said in an email.
In addition, the shutdown began in December, when Republicans controlled Congress, and before most of the new House members took office.
“This is definitely seen as a Trump shutdown more than it is a Democratic House shutdown,” said Josh Novotney, a Republican lobbyist based in Philadelphia. The border wall, he said, primarily appeals to hard-core conservatives, not the moderate voters who might apply pressure in swing districts.
At the same time, the vast majority of Republican senators, including Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, have shown little inclination to break with Trump or their leadership — and also have little political incentive to do so. Most are either up for reelection in conservative states, where Trump is relatively popular, or not on the ballot next year. Few face electoral danger.
Neither Toomey nor his Democratic counterpart in Pennsylvania, Sen. Bob Casey, signed onto a Senate letter circulated this week urging Trump to reopen the government, the latest Capitol Hill effort to sputter.
With neither party motivated to compromise, the result is a standoff that shows no signs of ending, even as it has left 800,000 federal employees without pay, hamstrung aid programs that support farmers, opioid treatment and low-income renters, and left national parks and airport security distressed.
Trump has argued that the wall is vital for securing the country’s southern border, while Democrats say it’s an outdated and expensive idea that the president promised that Mexico would fund. They’d rather spend money on scanning equipment, drones, and other more modern deterrents.
Potentially vulnerable House Democrats point to many bills they have passed to reopen parts of the shuttered government, arguing that they are doing their part; they blame the GOP-led Senate for refusing to vote on the same measures.
“I’ve only been in D.C. eight or nine days now, and I’ve yet to see a functioning government,” Rep. Andy Kim (D., N.J.) said Wednesday. “I’ve voted now seven times to open up the government, I’ll be doing my eighth this afternoon.”
Newly elected Democratic Reps. Madeleine Dean of Montgomery County and Mary Gay Scanlon of Delaware County have also stuck to their party’s argument.
The only House Republican in the Philadelphia area, Bucks County’s Brian Fitzpatrick, has split with his party to support the funding bills, one of few Republicans to do so. “I cast blame on leadership on both sides because both are refusing to come to the center and negotiate,” Fitzpatrick said.
Van Drew was a rare exception among Democrats.
He argued for talks that would open the government by providing money for some wall funding in exchange for relief for the young undocumented immigrants commonly called “Dreamers,” those brought to the country as children and now in legal limbo after Trump revoked their protected status.
Asked about Democratic leaders’ approach of insisting the government opens before there can be talks over Trump’s wall, Van Drew said: “That is not the way that I would go about it.”
“If it’s the only way we can get the government open, let’s talk about it now,” he said.
“I don’t believe we’re going to have a giant concrete wall along the entire length of the border, but do I believe some of it could be a traditional wall, some of it could be technology, some of it could be vertical steel.... There’s a way to do this. We can sit down and work this out,” Van Drew said.
Toomey, too, said the only way out is a compromise that includes wall funding between Trump’s demand — $5.7 billion — and Democrats’ latest offer, which is for nothing until the government is reopened. He also envisioned a potential deal that might include protections for Dreamers, though Trump has blown up past attempts at such a bargain and the White House has rejected talks to revive a similar deal.
Toomey noted that many Democrats voted for border fencing and other security measures in the past, most notably in 2006 and 2013.
“Now suddenly the only acceptable number is zero and nothing else? That’s ridiculous,” Toomey said.
Democrats counter that those votes were for either a far less substantial project (in 2006) or as part of a sweeping compromise (in 2013) that also included concessions to their immigration priorities, including protections for dreamers and a pathway to legalization for other undocumented immigrants.
And, they fire back, Republicans voted just last month for funding bills that included no wall money — and are now blocking those measures at Trump’s behest.
Toomey conceded that Trump’s tactics have contributed to Democrats’ unity.