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Shutdown stretches into third week; no end in sight

January 7, 2019

The White House and key lawmakers said Sunday that they don’t foresee a quick end to a partial government shutdown that has now entered its third week, with both sides unwilling to budge in a standoff over money for President Trump’s desired U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Vice President Mike Pence and congressional staff huddled for two days of weekend meetings to try to push toward a resolution, but even Mr. Trump said he didn’t expect much though the president tweeted afterward that talks were “productive.”

The president said keeping roughly 25 percent of the federal government closed is worth securing the $5 billion-plus he is seeking for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

“I have no fun doing this. I was elected to protect our country. That’s what I’m doing,” Mr. Trump told reporters as he left the White House for Camp David, where he held a staff meeting on border security and other 2019 priorities.

“If we don’t find a solution, it’s going to go on for a long time. There’s not going to be any bend right here,” he said, pointing to himself. “This shutdown could end tomorrow, and it could also go on for a long time it’s really dependent on the Democrats.”

But acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said that one Democratic negotiator opened a recent round of negotiations by saying they weren’t there to make an agreement.

“The discussion immediately turned to a bunch of technical requirements or technical requests that the Democrats were asking for for the first time ever in these negotiations, so I think this is going to drag on a lot longer,” Mr. Mulvaney said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I think that’s by intention.”

Democrats say it’s Mr. Trump who refuses to budge.

“I can’t say that we’re close because the president’s made it clear he doesn’t care,” Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation. “He’s prepared to see a shutdown for months and he even said years. It was stunning to hear a president of the United States say that about his own government a government we elected him to lead. But that is his position.”

The president said he would be willing to accept a steel-made wall rather than one constructed out of concrete.

“I informed my folks to say that we’ll build a steel barrier. It’ll be less obtrusive, and it’ll be stronger,” he said.

Mr. Trump is seeking $5.6 billion for border security and a wall in next year’s government spending legislation. The current-year bill allocates $1.3 billion for border security.

With their new majority, House Democrats approved legislation last week that would reopen eight of the nine shuttered departments for the full fiscal year, through Sept. 30, and extend current-year funding for the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8.

They also announced plans to start passing individual spending bills, starting with the one that funds the IRS, to try to put pressure on Senate Republicans though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he won’t take up bills that Mr. Trump won’t sign.

“Unless Congress acts, the American people will not receive their tax refunds, families will lose food stamps, homebuyers seeking mortgages will remain in limbo, and our national parks will continue to accumulate garbage and waste,” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey, New York Democrat and chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Mr. Trump said he can relate to those feeling the brunt of the shutdown, including the approximately 800,000 federal employees who have been left without paychecks. But he insisted that many support what he is trying to do to secure the border.

“I’m sure that the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustments. They always do, and they’ll make adjustments,” he said Sunday. “People understand exactly what’s going on. But many of those people that won’t be receiving a paycheck, many of those people agree 100 percent with what I’m doing.”

Still, lawmakers indicated they are not holding out hope for a quick deal.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, acknowledged Sunday that Congress and the White House are at an impasse.

“I was hoping it wouldn’t be this way, but it is,” Mr. Shelby said on Fox Business Network. “We could settle it. We should. But this has become a political circus.”

Sen. Susan M. Collins, Maine Republican, said she would support taking up the House-passed bills to reopen government while broader negotiations on border security continue.

“We could reopen much of government where there’s no dispute over issues involving certain departments like [agriculture], transportation, housing, interior. Let’s get those reopened while the negotiations continue,” Ms. Collins said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Ms. Collins said one possible compromise could be to fund border security at $2.5 billion in between the more than $5 billion Mr. Trump is demanding and the $1.3 billion Democrats say he should accept and provide a pathway to citizenship for young illegal immigrant “Dreamers.”

Incoming Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, also said he thinks there is a deal to be had involving border security money, legislation for Dreamers, and reforms to Homeland Security’s temporary protected status policies, which allow people into the U.S. from countries suffering from war or natural disasters, among other special circumstances.

“There’s 400,000 people going to lose their legal status soon who have been here for decades. I’d like to deal with that problem,” Mr. Graham said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

But he also said it’s becoming increasingly difficult to negotiate with a Democratic Party getting steered to the left by the party’s base.

“Right now the people running the show on the left are radical, liberal Democrats who don’t see a border security problem,” Mr. Graham said. “They see their own government being the problem, not the illegal immigrant. Until that changes, we’ll never get anywhere.”

Mr. Trump said a deal involving the Dreamers could be complicated and that he would prefer to have the courts settle issues tied to participants in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“Let the Supreme Court rule first,” the president said.

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