Government shutdown latest: ‘At least we are still talking’

Five words from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday night provided an apt window into a brief burst of optimism — and still long road to any resolution — at the end of day 34 of the partial government shutdown.

“At least we’re still talking.”

That McConnell and his Democratic counterpart Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York were talking is, in fact, progress given their relationship, and the negotiations in generally had been virtually frozen four weeks prior. But that they are only talking — and not, according to several sources, on the verge of clinching any deal — provides the best window into the moment: the crucial dynamics still haven’t shifted.

Bottom line: This is, as it has always been, about President Donald Trump and Democratic leadership. Democratic leadership, with the sharp polling advantage, the stories of increasingly frustrated Republicans and a White House casting about without a clear strategy, have, as one Democratic senator told last night, “zero incentive” to give in to Trump. It was made clear last night, two sources tell CNN, the President isn’t ready to back down either.

What to watch Friday

Both the House and Senate are in session, but no votes are scheduled in either chamber at the moment.

House Democrats may introduce their Homeland Security funding proposal, which would include its border security priorities. But that remains fluid, CNN’s Ashley Killough reports, as House leaders wait to see if anything occurs in Senate talks Friday.

A topline temperature check

After weeks of seemingly nothing of substance happening on Senate, the two Senate votes on Thursday, on competing proposals, both of which failed, unleashed the building frustration and borderline resentment in the chamber.

Senators, in the words of one Republican senator: “are pissed. This is all ridiculous, completely unnecessary and we all know it.”

A bipartisan group of 16 senators is still talking about a resolution. Leaders are meeting. Behind closed doors GOP senators, at their conference lunch Thursday, appeared to be bordering on a breaking point.

On Capitol Hill, there’s desperation for this to end. But nobody’s sure how to end it.

Inside the Senate GOP

The growing frustration inside the Senate Republican conference was laid bare behind closed doors Thursday in a lunch meeting attended by Vice President Mike Pence, according to three sources who were in the room.

Several senators spoke about the lack of strategy, or clear way out of the shutdown. They expressed frustration about the floor votes that were sure to fail a short time later. And perhaps most importantly, McConnell, the sources said, made a point, directly to Pence, that the shutdown was neither his idea nor his preference.

“The implicit, or borderline explicit, point was that nothing good is coming from this and whatever strategy there is, isn’t working,” said one senator who was in the room.

How was that point underscored? McConnell repeated to Pence in the meeting his oft-used phrase to describe why he loathes government shutdowns — something he started saying in the wake of the 2013 shutdown: “There’s no education in the second kick of a mule.”

What the President would consider

The White House said the President was open to a three-week stop-gap funding bill to reopen the 25% of the government currently shuttered if it included “a large down payment on the wall.”

Trump, speaking to reporters later in the day, said this: “One of the ideas suggested is they open it, they pay some sort of prorated down payment for the wall, which, I think people would agree, you need.”

How Democrats responded

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “The President just said that if they come to a reasonable agreement he will support it. I hope it doesn’t mean some big down payment for the wall.”

Asked again about a potential down payment, she said: “That is not a reasonable agreement between the senators.”

Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman: “Sen. Schumer and Senate Democrats have made clear to Leader McConnell and Republicans that they will not support funding for the wall, prorated or otherwise.”

Some irony here: A clean, three-week funding bill, which failed to advance in the Senate Thursday, would technically include pro-rated money for border fencing and repairs. Remember, the current funding agreement included $1.3 billion in fencing and repairs. So if funding is continued at current levels for three weeks, well, that would include three weeks worth of that $1.3 billion (Of course that’s not what the President is referring to, but just saying).

Why Democrats won’t budge, in headlines

Six GOP senators vote to end shutdown without wall funding Trump approval takes hit mid-shutdown Wilbur Ross “doesn’t quite understand” why furloughed workers are going to homeless shelters to get food No one knows how Trump plans to end the shutdown

Add the Senate Republican dust up Thursday in the closed-door conference lunch, and several Democratic aides have made clear they view the pressure as building to a breaking point on Republicans — and see limited, if any, reason to move off their position. The Democratic leadership position has stayed the same: the government must reopen before any border security negotiations can begin. The point, as explained to me by several lawmakers and aides, is that Trump wanted the shutdown, got the shutdown, and to concede any policy he wants, no matter how big or small, would incentivize him to use funding or debt limit deadlines for similar means in the future.

About the failed Senate votes

Trump has now proposed, or strongly supported, four separate immigration proposals that have reached the House or Senate floor during his time in office. All four have been soundly defeated — and the two proposals voted on in the Senate have gotten fewer votes than the compromise or Democratic proposals that also received votes.

Asked about the politics of the shutdown this morning, press secretary Sarah Sanders said congressional Democrats should “quit being obstructionist” and “quit just saying no.”

“Sit down at the table, let’s negotiate, let’s come to an agreement,” Sanders said Friday morning. “Let’s get a deal that actually helps federal workers and helps all Americans by protecting our border.”