Congress returns to session — but shutdown drags on

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Congress returns to session — but shutdown drags on




The Capitol Building

Compared with the last extended government shutdown in 2013, this episode is remarkably low-key. | AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Officially, Congress will be in session on Thursday. Unofficially, lawmakers are doing little to nothing to end a partial government shutdown now in its sixth day — and President Donald Trump isn’t moving, either.

Aides in both parties say they see little reason to believe anyone is budging over the funding of Trump’s border wall, least of all the president himself. Party leaders are now gaming out how the new Democratic House will react to a shutdown affecting a quarter of the government, and there are increasing worries that the funding lapse will persist for weeks, potentially deep into January.

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“I don’t see a scenario where the government opens back up until a new Congress is sworn in,” said retiring Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) on MSNBC Thursday. He added: “The Democratic House is not going to put more money into border security, I don’t think.”

Both the Senate and House are scheduled to be in on Thursday afternoon, but no votes are expected. Shortly before the House came in, leaders announced no votes are expected this week and that members would be given a day’s notice if votes are scheduled.

It’s unclear how many lawmakers are back in town during the holiday week anyway: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) did a TV hit from Florida, underscoring how little action is taking place on the Hill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) might not attend the Thursday Senate session, either.

It’s possible that neither chamber will vote again until Jan. 3, when Democrats assume the House majority.

There’s been little discussion between the White House and Democrats in recent days, according to people in both parties, and the two sides appear more dug in than they were a week ago. Schumer and presumptive House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have refused to offer any more than the current $1.3 billion in annual funding for border fencing, and Trump has said he will do “whatever it takes” to break the Democrats’ resolve.

“No end in sight to the President’s government shutdown. He’s taken our government hostage over his outrageous demand for a $5 billion border wall that would be both wasteful and ineffective,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) wrote on Twitter Thursday.

Trump arrived back in the United States on Thursday after a surprise post-Christmas visit to American troops in Iraq and Germany and was pleased by the news coverage of his trip, which temporarily displaced shutdown headlines, according to a White House official. After a Twitter respite during his 36 hours abroad, he was back at it Thursday morning, accusing the Democrats of abandoning their base and asserting in tweet that most of the federal workers affected during the shutdown are Democrats.

“Have the Democrats finally realized that we desperately need Border Security and a Wall on the Southern Border?” he wrote. “Do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats?”

Republicans said they’ve heard nothing new about a potential resolution from Schumer, whose Democratic minority can block any funding bill with a filibuster. Schumer had been negotiating with Vice President Mike Pence last weekend, to no avail.

“Not much is happening in Washington,” conceded Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) on Fox News. “Hopefully Schumer decides we need security.”

Compared with the last extended shutdown in 2013, this episode is remarkably low-key. The closure covers only a quarter of the government, and it’s hitting during the holidays, when many federal workers and lawmakers are off of work. What’s more, members of Congress are doing comparatively little messaging compared to the impasse of five years ago, when conservatives tried to defund Obamacare and eventually GOP leaders blinked.

There have been almost no press conferences in recent days aimed at pinning the blame on the opposition, which could be in vain anyway since Trump said he’d be “proud” to own the shutdown (before subsequently trying to pin it on Democrats).

In the void of traditional congressional partisan messaging, including Republican leaders who might moderate the president’s tone, Trump has continued his offensive — and he has been egged on by supporters who encouraged him to shut down the government in the first place.

On his radio show on Monday, Rush Limbaugh urged the president hold his ground until Democrats take control of the House in early January.

“The Democrats have no incentive really to solve this until they take control of the House of Representatives on January 3, but I want the president to hold firm on this, this shutdown is one that the Democrats own,” Limbaugh said. “This would be very easy to resolve and they don’t want to do it, they don’t want to do it.”

Limbaugh played a key role in convincing Trump to shut down the government over the border wall, expressing disappointment that the president was at one point prepared to sign a continuing resolution to fund the government through early February. Trump eventually sent him a personal assurance that he would not yield in his demands and was willing to shut down the government over them.

But there is almost no incentive for Democrats to compromise right now in the final days of unified GOP rule. Their hand will strengthen considerably when Pelosi becomes speaker, and she can send over funding bills shorting the border wall and see how McConnell deals with it.

As the two sides continue their staredown, people close to the president are urging him not to waver.

“I don’t think there’s any situation where the president should give up on that demand,” Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said on CNN Wednesday. “The president is very firm in his resolve.”

Rebecca Morin and Eli Okun contributed to this report.

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