Even as President Donald Trump and GOP leaders in Congress expressed optimism about reaching a deal to end a funding fight over money for the President’s border wall, the first substantive talks between the White House and Congressional leaders since before Christmas produced no obvious progress on Wednesday, as the dispute was assured of sliding into the new Congress, which convenes at 12 noon on Thursday.
“I don’t think any particular progress was made,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters as he returned to the Capitol from a bipartisan leadership meeting at the White House.
McConnell told reporters that it could take days – or even weeks – to reach a deal, as a new round of talks does not seem likely until Friday.
“There’s nothing you can do about it, unless you are willing to build a wall,” the President told reporters, during an extended photo opportunity with top Cabinet officials at the White House.
“We need the wall for the security of our country,” Mr. Trump added.
The President raised the possibility of a deal to gain the $5.6 billion in border security funds approved by Republicans in the House before Christmas, floating the idea of horse trading that would involve legal status for some younger children of illegal immigrant parents under DACA, and protections for some refugees who have a temporary protected status in the U.S.
But Democrats were expressing little interest in that type of deal making in public, ready to forge ahead with their own plans on Thursday, as the House – after Nancy Pelosi is sworn in as Speaker – will move to approve legislation that funds those agencies and departments which are now under a partial government shutdown.
“We’re asking the President to open up government,” Speaker-Designate Pelosi said outside the White House.
“They are now feeling the heat,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, as both parties tried to portray the other as the one deserving the blame for the shutdown, and casting the other as refusing to cut any agreement.
But the Senate Majority Leader made clear that the Democratic plans will go nowhere in the Senate after Thursday – leaving the Congress in the exact same position – with no funding for about one quarter of the federal government.
Regardless of which party one believes is right or wrong, the events of Wednesday made clear that the 115th Congress will end on a rather inglorious note, with about 800,000 federal workers either on furlough, or working without getting a paycheck, including those who are involved in the fight against illegal immigration.
“I have always said we should never shutdown the government and governing this way is embarrassing for both Democrats and Republicans,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).
The shutdown started to have more and more of an impact on Wednesday, as agencies which had been working on leftover and extra funding started shutting down operations – like the Smithsonian Museums in Washington – closing their doors because of the lack of funding.
An array of government websites were also on hold, with notices splashed across their home pages that the sites were not being updated during the funding lapse.
“Content on this website will not be current of maintained until funding issues have been resolved,” read a notice from the Department of Agriculture.
“Due to the lapse in federal funding, this website will not be actively managed,” it said on the home page of the Transportation Security Administration, where thousands will keep working at airports – without pay – for as long as the funding standoff continues.
Other agencies were squeezing out what extra cash they had, like the Federal Communications Commission, which plans to ‘suspend most operations’ on Thursday.
“At that time, employees will have up to four hours to complete an orderly shutdown of operations,” the FCC wrote in a notice.
For now, no one knows when that funding dispute will be resolved.