Government shutdown, day 3: White House, Congress remain at standstill

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Senator Chuck Schumer lambasted President Donald Trump over his demand that American taxpayers pay for a border wall which has led to a partial government shutdown.
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – As the partial government shutdown entered a third day on Monday, the White House and congressional leaders remained at a standstill over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion for a southern border wall.

Markets opened down on a shortened trading day as investors grappled Monday with the shutdown and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s unusual and unprompted statement over the weekend that U.S. banks are healthy. Trump tweeted about several contentious issues, including the border security fight. 

The president was scheduled to meet with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Monday afternoon to discuss border issues, the White House said. 

“Virtually every Democrat we are dealing with today strongly supported a Border Wall or Fence,” Trump posted on Twitter. “It was only when I made it an important part of my campaign, because people and drugs were pouring into our Country unchecked, that they turned against it. Desperately needed!”

Experts note a wall would not likely have a major impact on illicit drugs, which are frequently smuggled into the U.S. through legal ports of entry.   

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said Sunday the White House had made a new offer to Democrats for a funding bill that would spend more than the $1.3 billion for border security that Democrats already support but less than the $5 billion for border-wall construction that Trump has called for publicly.

But because the Senate won’t meet againuntil at least Thursday, Mulvaney said the shutdown could continue into the new Congress, which begins Jan. 3.Democrats, who will take control of the House that same day, will have additional leverage to negotiate with Trump in the new year.    

“I don’t think things are going to move very quickly,” Mulvaney told “Fox News Sunday.”

The White House provided what he called a counteroffer Saturday to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “The ball right now is in their corner,” Mulvaney said.

“If Director Mulvaney says the Trump Shutdown will last into the New Year, believe him – because it’s their shutdown,” a spokesman for Schumer responded.

The Washington Post reported that the White House’s latest request was $2.1 billion for border security and another $400 million for other Trump immigration enforcement efforts. A Democratic congressional aide, who was not authorized to discuss the negotiations publicly, confirmed those figures.

Democratic lawmakers have blasted Trump’s proposed wall as expensive, ineffective and immoral. On Capitol Hill, both the House and Senate held pro forma sessions that lasted only a matter of minutes, with no votes or official business.

Many lawmakers have left Washington to spend the holidays with their families. But spending talks continued amid a weekend of football and basketball games, with little outcry over the shutdown. But Mulvaney said because Monday and Tuesday are federal holidays, “Wednesday is really the first day that this kicks in.”

To keep Grand Canyon National Park open for a week, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed an executive order to provide $64,000 that will keep the park and essential functions such as trash collection, restrooms and ranger services. The government’s Santa tracker was online Christmas Eve, because the agency that runs it relies heavily on volunteers to carry out the tradition.

More: Will NORAD’s Santa Tracker still monitor St. Nick’s journey even if there’s a government shutdown?

Some Republicans have expressed frustration with the White House’s strategy.Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the outgoing chairman of the Foreign Relations Committeeand a frequent Trump critic, told CNN thatthe shutdown was “unnecessary” and “juvenile” because both parties want to work on immigration issues.

Corker noted that Democrats and Republicans supported legislation to provide $25 billion for border security while also dealing with young immigrants who arrived with parents who entered the country illegally. The legislation wasn’t ultimately approved. But in contrast, Corker said the shutdown fight is over much less.

“This is a made-up fight,” Corker said. “This is something that is unnecessary. It’s a spectacle. And, candidly, it’s juvenile.”

The shutdown takes place during an especially chaotic time in the Trump administration, including the resignation Thursday of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis after Trump announced withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, a plunging stock market and Trump attacks on Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell.

Schumer had blamed the shutdown on Trump’s “two-week temper tantrum” over border-wall funding and said the Senate has no interest “in swindling American taxpayers for an unnecessary, ineffective and wasteful policy.”

“President Trump, if you want to open the government, you must abandon the wall, plain and simple,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said senators would be told when a vote was scheduled and that “negotiations will continue” in the meantime. The Senate next plans to meet Thursday for debate. The House has instructed lawmakers no votes are expected until at least Thursday.

At the White House, Trump, who postponed his end-of-the-year trip to Florida, huddled Saturday with his advisers and with a small group of GOP lawmakers to discuss border security but did not include Democrats in the meeting. Among the Republicans who were invited were members of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus, which has urged Trump not to abandon the fight for border wall funding.

“This is not about the wall for Democrats. It’s not even about immigration for Democrats,” tweeted Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. “This is about denying (Trump) a win on a signature agenda item that he promised the American people.”

The latest shutdown – the second one this year and the third of Trump’s presidency – was triggered just after midnight Friday when the budget standoff caused funding to lapse for nine federal departments and several smaller agencies. A quarter of the government shut down, and some 800,000 government employees were forced to go on furlough or work without pay.

Agencies impacted include the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons, Customs and Border Patrol and the IRS, as well as national parks and forests. In all, the nine departments affected are Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Interior, State, Transportation, Treasury and Housing and Urban Development.

The White House said federal employees in those departments would be paid for days worked before the shutdown began. The pay period ended on Saturday, and those checks will go out on Dec. 28. Employees deemed “essential” and forced to work during the shutdown will be paid once federal funds start flowing again, the Trump administration said, although that would require congressional action.

Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes negotiations continue – primarily at the staff level – in an attempt to break the funding impasse and end the shutdown. The House has passed a bill that includes $5.7 billion in funding for border security, including a wall. But the proposal is stalled in the Senate and cannot pass without the support of Democrats.

Contributing: John Fritze and Deirdre Shesgreen

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