Trump’s unyielding stance and lack of an evident plan to broker an end to the 24-day impasse comes at a fragile moment for his presidency, following a weekend at the White House during which he lashed out at critics large and small on Twitter and faced deeper scrutiny of his relationship with Russian leaders.
The standstill also underscored the dysfunction that has gripped Washington since divided government began this month. Overtures to Trump’s core voters have dominated the White House’s strategy as Democrats have looked on in confusion, after the last round of talks between Trump and congressional leaders collapsed last week when Trump walked out.
“This is a crisis of Trump’s creation,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said as she returned to the Capitol on Monday. “I hope my colleagues think about all of the people living paycheck to paycheck.”
The political cost of the shutdown is mounting as more than 800,000 federal workers miss their paychecks and as a new nonpartisan poll shows that nearly 2 out of 3 American voters support reopening the government and do not back Trump’s hard-line demand of $5.7 billion for a portion of the border wall.
Worries were on the rise Monday. Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), for example, said he is concerned about the operation of fisheries in his state and is “focused on minimizing the impact of the shutdown” — a message that was echoed by other GOP senators as they returned to Washington.
The acrimony between Trump and congressional leaders prompted a bipartisan group of rank-and-file senators — including Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) — to meet late Monday afternoon in fresh pursuit of an agreement.
But allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were skeptical about the group’s chances of crafting a deal that could win the president’s support and pass the GOP-controlled Senate. And they said McConnell does not yet feel pressure to break from Trump’s position, despite the growing cracks in Republican ranks, particularly among more centrist lawmakers.
“He’s right where he has always been,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said as he left a private lunch Monday with McConnell. “As soon as the president tells him there is something he’d be willing to sign, he’ll bring it to the floor. But the president’s signature isn’t a given on anything, and the leader isn’t going to go through with some futile act on something in the meantime .”
“Maybe this is all one big political game,” McConnell said of the Democrats’ position Monday in his floor remarks, which revealed no signs of progress in the standoff. “What’s happening here is that federal workers are paying for this far-left ideological crusade.”
A group led by Graham worked last week to stitch together a bipartisan immigration deal that would trade wall funding for protections for unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children. But the group disbanded after Vice President Pence announced that Trump wasn’t interested in such a deal.
Graham, speaking later on “Fox News Sunday,” urged Trump to “open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks before he pulls the plug, see if we can get a deal” on the wall.
Cornyn, who is up for reelection in 2020, said Monday that many Republicans are eager to see a truce emerge this week. He has proposed his own potential path forward: tying together a boost in funding for security projects at ports of entry with an updated version of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. That law, which was backed by several Senate Democrats, triggered the construction of barriers and fences along 548 miles of the border between 2007 and 2010.
“Both sides are going to have to have something they can show they got out of a deal,” Cornyn said. “The president, of course, takes his own counsel, and it’s going to be hard to convince him.”
Other Senate Republicans floated their own plans to end the deadlock, but few won much attention as Trump traveled to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 100th Annual Convention in New Orleans.
“We do need to have a Plan B,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). “It looks like both sides are pretty well dug in. I don’t like the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., so I’m trying to alleviate that dysfunction.”
Johnson is one of many GOP senators straining to balance their alliance with Trump with their desire to end the impasse. His plan involves “opening up the essential parts of government and making sure that people who are working are being paid,” while keeping some agencies shut down.
“Maybe doing this would force the Democrats to negotiate in good faith on border security,” he said.
Graham attended Monday’s meeting of the bipartisan negotiation group. Other attendees included Sens. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
After the meeting, Manchin offered a downbeat assessment: “I sat there for an hour and didn’t know what the hell it was about.”
White House officials said Monday that the president would invite some House Democrats to meet with him this week to discuss border security, in an attempt to see if any Democrats would be willing to work directly with him.
But Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) joked in a closed-door meeting of top House Democrats on Monday that they were fine with Trump’s invites and did not expect their members to break away, according to an aide who was present.
Pelosi told Hoyer: “They can see what we’ve been dealing with. And they’ll want to make a citizen’s arrest,” according to the aide, who described a private discussion on the condition of anonymity.
Democrats say they’re open to negotiating on border security, but only after Trump agrees to reopen the government. The House has spent the past two weeks passing spending bills to reopen portions of the government that have nothing to do with funding for a border wall, an effort that will continue this week.
“Why won’t President Trump open the government while we continue to negotiate? Because he thinks it’s okay to use Americans’ lives, livelihoods, paychecks, and families as ‘leverage’ for his wall,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote on Twitter on Monday.
Leaders in both parties are watching to see whether moderate Republicans grow nervous about the shutdown this week and pressure McConnell to act. “Everyone’s eyes are on Mitch,” said one senior Democratic aide, who was not authorized to talk publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Will there be more Lisas or Susans?”
Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) pleaded last Wednesday with Trump to reopen the government, according to lawmakers present at the president’s meeting with GOP senators, but so far their position is not widely shared within the Senate Republican conference.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Monday that he was on a flight with a “fairly leading senior member of the House” who “made absolutely clear that he and others in the House, and most prominently Speaker Pelosi, have no intention of relenting.”
Recent polling shows that Trump and Republicans are in a more tenuous position as the shutdown drags on. A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday shows that 63 percent of American voters oppose shutting down the government to force funding for a border wall, with 56 percent saying Trump and Republicans are responsible for the shutdown, while 36 percent say Democrats are responsible. A majority of voters, the polling memo adds, remain opposed to a border wall.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday also showed that more Americans blame Trump and Republicans in Congress than congressional Democrats for the shutdown, and most reject the president’s assertion that there is an illegal-immigration crisis on the border.
Trump’s weekend included a deluge of developments that have rattled his administration, bringing a rush of headlines related to the investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. The president has often been isolated in his residence in recent days and prone to flashes of frustration about his inability to get Democrats to buckle and provide him with funds, two Trump advisers said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe private exchanges.
“He isn’t in love with this shutdown, but he needs the wall,” one adviser said, describing his views.
The lack of wall funding, however, is only one item on a list of challenges facing the embattled president. On Friday, the New York Times first reported that an FBI investigation that was opened after Trump fired then-bureau Director James B. Comey in May 2017 included a component to determine whether the president was seeking to help Russia.
Then, on Saturday, The Washington Post reported that Trump had gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Those steps included at least one occasion, in 2017 in Hamburg, when Trump took possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructed the linguist not to discuss what had happened with other administration officials.
As Trump departed for New Orleans on Monday, he faced questions about those stories as well as the shutdown, highlighting the political storms he is confronting at this juncture in his presidency.
Asked if he would be willing to share the interpreter’s notes, Trump did not directly answer, instead saying that “it was actually a very successful meeting” in which he and Putin discussed “many subjects.”
A national-emergency declaration had appeared a possible route to ending the shutdown last week, before Trump backed off the idea Friday.
“The Democrats should say: ‘We want border security. We have to build a wall, otherwise you can’t have border security.’ And we should get on with our lives,” Trump told reporters outside the White House on Monday.
Trump continued his pitch hours later in his speech in New Orleans.
“When it comes to keeping the American people safe, I will never ever back down,” he said.
John Wagner, Damian Paletta and Heather Long contributed to this report.