White House Says Shutdown Still 'On the Table' as Congressional Negotiations Stall
Earlier progress appears halted with just days until funding expires.
Negotiations to avoid another partial government shutdown stalled in recent days, according to the lawmakers leading those talks, increasing the likelihood of another impasse that forces much of the executive branch to once again close its doors.
Appropriators discussing an agreement for border security funding—the lone unresolved piece in the spending talks—appeared close to a deal last week, but have since hit a stumbling block. Democrats appear poised to allow some funding for President Trump’s proposed “physical barriers” along the U.S.-Mexico border, but have coupled that concession with a demand that Immigration and Customs Enforcement cap the number of undocumented immigrants it detains to pre-Trump levels. Trump and congressional Republicans have balked at that proposal, saying it would force ICE to release immigrants eligible for deportation.
Trump said on Sunday he believed Democrats were making “terrible offers” because “they want a shutdown.” The longest-ever shutdown ended after 35 days when Trump signed a continuing resolution last month that is set to expire on Friday. The departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, State, Interior, Agriculture, Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security and Justice, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, Office of Personnel Management and other independent agencies, have yet to receive full-year appropriations and would again shut down absent congressional action.
White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said on Fox News Sunday that a shutdown was still a possibility.
“Here's what we do know: the president has to sign a piece of legislation in order to keep the government open,” Mulvaney said. “He cannot sign everything they put in front of him. There'll be some things that simply we couldn't agree to. So the government shutdown is technically still on the table. We do not want it to come to that, but that option is still open to the president and will remain so.”
The White House held a call with reporters on Monday to denounce Democrats' proposal to cap ICE detention and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also attempted to pour cold water on the idea. McConnell said from the Senate floor the negotiations had been in a "pretty good place" but hit a snag when Democrats attempted to add a "poison pill" into the mix.
The chief negotiators on the border security funding deal were set to meet again on Monday, but conceded that momentum has stalled.
“We haven't reached a number on the barrier yet, but we're working and we're hoping we can get there,” Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said on the same Sunday show. “But we've got to get fluid again. We got to start movement.”
Shelby said he would like for a shutdown to be “off the table,” but he could not make that guarantee.
“We've worked hard to fund the government,” he said. “We're going to continue to work hard in these negotiations. But the specter of a shutdown is always out there.”
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who sits on the bicameral DHS funding conference committee seeking to strike a border security deal, said on the same show that the current impasse was all part of the process.
“Negotiations seldom go smooth all the way through,” Tester said. “It's give-and-take. It's compromise. It's the way government is supposed to work. “We are not to a point where we can announce a deal. Negotiations are still going on.”
He expressed some optimism, adding he has “confidence that hopefully we'll get something done very soon.” He cautioned, however, that he was “not positive we'll end up with a deal.”
Lawmakers are likely to face increased external pressures if they continue to approach a shutdown, or if agencies are actually forced to close. J. David Cox, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, said on Monday his members stand ready to push lawmakers to keep the government open and AFGE is planning a demonstration as early as Wednesday.
"If we don't have something definitive by Wednesday, we will be in the Hart [Senate] Office Building, and we'll be ready to roll all over this country and continue on an ongoing basis," he said. He added that any senators who vote against reopening government during a shutdown the following week will be “receiving a visit from lots and lots of people."
The union representing nearly 50,000 flight attendants also said on Monday it would organize mass protests at airports during a shutdown. Employees calling out from the Transportation Security Administration and Federal Aviation Administration ramped up pressure to end the last shutdown.
Lawmakers are facing a tight timeline to reach an agreement, pass it through the conference committee and win approval in both chambers before Friday’s deadline. Shelby said on Sunday if a deal could not be made by Monday, lawmakers would likely have to seek another short-term deal. It is not clear if such a measure could make it to Trump’s desk or if the president would sign it.
“They’re not good options,” Shelby said of the fallback plans.
Erich Wagner contributed to this report. It has been updated with additional comment.