Hours after funding lapsed for the federal government at midnight, lawmakers returned to work for an unusual Saturday session of the House and Senate, as both parties quickly launched themselves into finger pointing over who is to blame for the first government shutdown since 2013, with few signs that a deal was near on the major spending and immigration issues that brought about the standoff.
“Get it together,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi bluntly said to Republicans in a morning speech on the House floor, as she led a chorus from her party in blaming the President for the budgetary impasse.
“The Trump travesty continues, as it has for the last twelve months,” said Pelosi’s top lieutenant, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD).
Over on the Senate floor, the reviews were much the same from Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), who unsuccessfully tried to reach a deal with the President on Friday.
“Negotiating with President Trump is like negotiating with jello,” Schumer said.
But Republicans were having none of that.
“We’re about nine hours into the Schumer shutdown,” said Rep. Greg LaMalfa (R-CA) as the House convened, “which is basically Senate Democrats holding the United States, 320 million people, hostage.”
“The solution is to end the foolishness,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said Democrats were all to blame for the impasse.
“There is no excuse for this,” said Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA).
“Democrats shut down the govt to protect illegals this week,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA).
Behind the scenes, lawmakers in both parties were still hoping to cut a deal that would have the government fully open by Monday – but there was little evidence of a possible breakthrough on the broader budget and immigration issues which led to this stalemate.
Negotiations have centered on reaching a two year agreement on spending levels for the budget – as President Trump wants a sizable increase in the military’s budget – and on DACA, where Democrats were still hoping to get an agreement that would protect some 700,000 illegal immigrant “Dreamers” from being deported.
As the clock ticked toward midnight on Friday night, there were a flurry of talks on the Senate floor between Senators of both parties – not really about the specifics of the budget or DACA – but mainly about the length of any temporary funding plan for the government, and plans to vote on that hot button immigration topic.
“Since there were discussions here in earnest, in a bipartisan way, we ought to give those discussions a chance to bear fruit,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL).
“We should stay and work,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). “Senator McConnell chose to shut the government down,” referring to the GOP leader in the Senate.
But the underlying issues remain fraught with political problems, especially on immigration, where many Republicans see no direct link between funding the government and a deal on DACA and illegal immigrant “Dreamers.”
“This Schumer Shutdown is absolutely ridiculous,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). “It is totally irresponsible for the Democrats to use government funding as a bargaining chip.”
At the White House, there was no sign that the President was going to cave on Democratic demands on immigration, as officials accused Democrats of doing all they could to slow political momentum from a big GOP tax cut plan that was signed into law in December.
The White House and Republicans also made clear that they would not negotiate on immigration matters while funding was interrupted.
Democrats said they thought they were close to a deal with the President on Friday over DACA and other immigration issues, but that Mr. Trump backed off, again emphasizing the uncertainty that surrounds talks with the White House on major legislative issues.
Even if the Senate were to approve a bill which combined provisions on DACA and the Dreamers, along with other items on border security, most Republicans say that would have little chance in the House, where GOP lawmakers favor a much tougher approach.
One obvious difference between this shutdown and the one in 2013, is seen right here in Washington, D.C., where outdoor memorials and the Smithsonian museums were still open. Those were shut down by the Obama Administration last time, in what Republicans said was an effort to punish the GOP for a shutdown battle.
Much of the shutdown won’t have a dramatic impact in Washington, D.C. until Monday, that’s when hundreds of thousands of federal workers would be staying home, and major government buildings would be open only to ‘essential’ personnel.
In the meantime, furlough notices were going out, leaving federal employees to wonder if this would be a short interruption, or one that goes for some time, like the 16 day furlough they experienced in the 2013 shutdown fight.