President Donald Trump meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L), U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (2nd R), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R) and other congressional leaders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, September 6, 2017.

More than 12 hours since U.S. government funding lapsed, Congress appeared to have made only minor progress toward a deal to reopen the government.

Talks continued on Capitol Hill after a month-long spending plan passed by the House failed in the Senate, triggering a shutdown that started at midnight Saturday. Lawmakers stayed in Washington for the weekend, aiming to break the funding impasse and move toward striking a deal on immigration legislation and reauthorizing a popular children’s health insurance program.

Among Congressional Republicans and the White House, momentum built for another temporary plan that would extend funding to Feb. 8 instead of Feb. 16, as proposed in the House bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Saturday evening that he will aim to hold a vote to advance the Feb. 8 extension early Monday unless Democrats agree to move it up. The Kentucky Republican tried to advance the measure on Saturday, but Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., blocked the move.

“So I want to assure the American people we’ll be right back at this tomorrow,” McConnell said Saturday on the Senate floor. “Say again to the American people: we’ll be right back at this tomorrow and for as long as it takes.”

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham championed the proposal, arguing it could get bipartisan support and give ample time to resolve differences on long-term spending levels, immigration and health care. Democratic leaders had sought a spending bill for only a few days, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., introduced a four-day funding measure Saturday that will likely gain little traction with Republicans.

Earlier Saturday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi flatly rejected a Feb. 8 deal, arguing that “there’s no point” in a stopgap extension if lawmakers cannot agree on long-term priorities. Asked by MSNBC on Saturday if he would back the Feb. 8 extension, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was noncommittal.

The stalemate had both major parties slinging blame on the one-year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration, when he had been set to attend a big-money fundraiser at his private golf club in Florida. Trump started the day by sardonically thanking Senate Democrats for a “nice present” a year after he took office.

A group of at least a dozen bipartisan, moderate senators met throughout the afternoon Saturday, trying to forge a path forward, according to NBC News. The lawmakers appeared to make minimal progress, with Democrats divided on whether to accept a short-term bill with assurances — or hold out for a longer-term agreement.

McConnell on Saturday pushed for senators to “end this foolishness” and cut a deal.

“I invite all my colleagues across the aisle to join together and do what is obviously responsible and right for the people we represent,” he said. “Let’s reopen the government and then resume the bipartisan discussions on funding our troops, on [immigration], on government spending, and on all the other priorities that all of us can work together to resolve.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) returns to the U.S. Capitol after meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on the looming threat of a federal government shutdown January 19, 2018 in Washington, DC.

‘Like negotiating with Jell-O’

Before Friday’s vote, numerous Democrats and Republicans criticized the proposal to extend government funding only temporarily. The minority party also sought an agreement this week on a bill that would shield hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation, while meeting Republican demands for more border security funding and tweaks to the immigration system.

Those talks were thrown into chaos last week, when Trump rejected a deal floated by bipartisan senators and reportedly questioned why the U.S. needed immigrants from “s—hole” countries like Africa and Haiti.

Earlier Saturday, Schumer expressed exasperation about negotiating with Trump’s White House, which Graham also echoed this week.

“Negotiating with this White House is like negotiating with Jell-O. It’s next to impossible,” he said.

Speaking to MSNBC on Saturday, the New York Democrat stated he hoped the impasse would “end as soon as possible, as soon as our Republican friends get their act together.” He cited a lack of consensus between Trump and Congressional GOP leaders as detrimental to the process.

“The Republicans are dysfunctional, they’re in total disarray and that’s why America knows this is a Trump shutdown,” he added.

As negotiations continued, a few signs emerged from the White House Saturday that Trump could be open to the compromises being floated on Capitol Hill.

While the president took a backseat, Marc Short, the director of legislative affairs, and Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, led the White House messaging effort.

On Saturday morning, Short paid a visit to Republicans on Capitol Hill, where he questioned whether Democrats were truly united in their opposition to the House GOP spending bill. He indicated that Republicans still hoped to win over enough Democrats to pass the same spending bill that failed in the Senate on Friday night.

Trump, for his part, issued a series of angry tweets early in the morning, accusing Democrats of “holding our Military hostage over their desire to have unchecked illegal immigration. Can’t let that happen!”

But by Saturday afternoon, the official White House position appeared to have hardened, as had those of the various factions of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

“We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while [the country] is being held hostage by Democrats,” Short told reporters at an impromptu press briefing. “The White House position remains the same. We stand here ready to sign the bill that the House passed last night.”

With the prospects of a short-term deal dimming, Mulvaney seemed to acknowledge that the shutdown could last well into next week, telling reporters that the president’s scheduled trip Wednesday to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, would be reevaluated “on a day-to-day basis.”

Jacob Pramuck


News Reporter

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