White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has asked agency leaders to identify the highest-impact programs that would be jeopardized if the partial government shutdown continues into March and April, people familiar with the directive said Wednesday. The move was a sign the administration is beginning to prepare for a lengthy funding lapse, with negotiations between President Trump and Democrats at a standstill.
Mulvaney wants the list no later than Friday, these people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the request. It comes as the shutdown, now in its fifth week and the longest in history, has triggered snowballing consequences for the economy and government services, as well as the 800,000 federal workers who are going without pay.
The request is the first known ask from a top White House official for a broad accounting of the spreading impact of the shutdown. So far, top White House officials have been particularly focused on wait times at airport security but not the sprawling interruption of programs elsewhere in the government, such as those that provide food stamps or safety inspections of various kinds.
A senior White House budget official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe the request, characterized it as “prudent management” but added that it should not be seen as a signal of whether the administration believes the shutdown will last until March.
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, Democrats prepared to respond to Trump’s condition for reopening the government — $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall — with a new border security proposal that would exceed previous commitments. The party is even considering matching the $5.7 billion request, not for a wall but for other measures such as immigration judges and drones. The Democrats would consider such legislation only after the government is reopened.
“If his $5.7 billion is about border security, then we see ourselves fulfilling that request, only doing it through what I like to call using a ‘smart wall,’ ” said House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.).
The proposal from Democrats signaled an urgent desire to end the shutdown, after many lawmakers spent the holiday weekend hearing from voters at home about the difficulties they are experiencing as a result of the shutdown. Some lawmakers saw Transportation Security Administration workers handing out fliers demanding “End the Government Shutdown Immediately,” along with a plea for people to call Congress, as they traveled back to Washington. TSA agents, along with other federal workers, face a second missed paycheck in coming days.
“It’s just coming from every direction, the pain that this is inflicting on people, so we just have to get the government open,” said one freshman House Democrat, Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.).
But it wasn’t clear whether any of the legislative movement would lead to a deal. Leaders canceled a planned Friday session in the House, letting lawmakers leave Washington a day early. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) officially called off Trump’s Jan. 29 State of the Union address in the House chamber, sparking a bitter new war of words.
The next big action will come Thursday in the Senate, which is preparing to vote on a pair of competing bills to end the shutdown. Each is expected to fail, putting pressure on both parties to seek a new solution.
Trump once again suggested he would not back down from his wall demand.
“We have to have a wall. We have to have a barricade of some kind, a steel barricade; it’s already designed,” Trump said at a White House event with conservative leaders.
Mulvaney’s request for an accounting of the pending impacts of the shutdown startled some federal officials, who had been struggling to manage the fallout from the partial shuttering of a quarter of the federal government, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and others. Many of these officials have been trying to determine how to keep some agency functions operating at a time when a growing number of workers are refusing to show up because they aren’t getting paid.
Now, in addition to dealing with the daily problems caused by the shutdown, Mulvaney is forcing them to comprehend how to run parts of their bureaucracies without money for an extended period of time. The impact is expected to spread to millions of people who rely on affected government services.
The shutdown has already caused the federal government to stop paying 800,000 employees, but the impact is expected to become broader in the coming weeks. The federal court system is likely to halt major operations after Feb. 1, and the Department of Agriculture does not have funding to pay food stamp benefits in March to roughly 40 million people.
The White House also faces a backlash from many federal workers. Some have balked at continuing to work without being paid, and their unions are filing legal action against the administration.
A widening number of organizations are warning that the shutdown could lead to catastrophic problems any moment.
Associations that represent airline pilots, air traffic controllers and flight attendants issued a statement Wednesday saying the shutdown has caused major security and safety issues at airports.
“In our risk averse industry, we cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play, nor predict the point at which the entire system will break,” the groups said. “It is unprecedented.”
And there were new signs that federal agencies are still trying to comprehend the scope of their growing problems.
The U.S. General Services Administration, an agency that manages many of the government’s leases and contracts, notified a number of departments that it probably needs new flexibility from Congress for it to make utility and lease payments in the coming days.
Many federal agencies lease space in commercial buildings around the country, and if the GSA can’t make rental payments for these departments, the government could incur major fees and other costs. This could also have a big impact on the property owners, which rely on large government payments for their income.
The prospect of the budget impasse extending into the spring has prompted some agencies to reassess the way they would operate under such a scenario. National parks across the country would normally start hiring seasonal staff right now for their busy seasons. In a call Wednesday with senior agency staff, according to two people briefed on the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Interior officials explained that the Park Service may soon bring back human resources staff to start processing seasonal applications for law enforcement, sanitation and other public safety functions. The hiring push would not extend to employees focused on resource protection or interpretive services, they said.
Kristen Brengel, vice president for government relations at the National Parks Conservation Association, said in an email that the move was short-sighted.
“Thousands of seasonal park rangers are essential to protecting natural and cultural resources during the busiest seasons in many of our national parks. If most of them don’t get hired soon, our national parks won’t be able to deal with the massive influx of visitors, which will continue to make parks even more vulnerable to damage,” she said.
In the House, Democratic leaders emerged from a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning with a new border security proposal that would include improvements such as retrofitting ports of entry, new sensors and drones, more immigration judges and Border Patrol agents, and additional technology, among other measures.
The proposal was not final, but lawmakers and aides said it would be higher than the levels Democrats have supported in the past, which have ranged from $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion.
“It will be a substantial figure,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.).
The development underscored how Democrats want to do more to show what border security measures they support, instead of just standing in opposition to Trump’s wall. Although the House Democratic caucus has been largely unified behind Pelosi throughout the shutdown, a small number of lawmakers have expressed anxiety about her strategy of refusing to negotiate until the government is reopened.
Freshman Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) collected around 30 signatures on a letter released Wednesday that, while essentially dovetailing with Pelosi’s strategy, also underscored the urgency these lawmakers feel, expressing that “our job as legislators is to do the most good for the most people.”
Lawmakers in the centrist Democratic Blue Dog Coalition also released a letter Wednesday calling on House and Senate leaders to convene a bipartisan, bicameral “summit” to resolve the standoff.
In a closed-door caucus meeting Wednesday morning, Pelosi renewed calls for unity in her ranks, citing polling showing Democrats winning the public relations fight around the shutdown, according to a Democratic aide present who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private discussion.
“Understand the impact of the unity of our caucus,” Pelosi told her members, according to this aide. She then spoke about how Democrats had defeated former president George W. Bush’s attempt to partially privatize the Social Security system by sticking together.
In the Senate, the first vote Thursday will be on a proposal from Trump to reopen the government while spending $5.7 billion on the wall he repeatedly said would be paid for by Mexico. The bill would also make additional changes to the immigration system, including new restrictions on the asylum program and providing temporary deportation relief to young unauthorized immigrants brought illegally to the country as children and others who came to the United States under a program set up for people fleeing countries affected by natural disasters or violence.
The other scheduled vote is on a Democratic stopgap measure to reopen the government through Feb. 8 without funding the wall, allowing for border security negotiations.
Neither measure is expected to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, but some lawmakers expressed guarded optimism that the twin failures would prove the need for a new solution.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said he planned to support the Trump plan and oppose the Democrats’ alternative.
“That should set the stage for neither of them being acceptable, but it should open up negotiations between the parties now to start finding some common ground,” he said.
Shortly before the shutdown began, the full Senate passed a bill like the one Democrats will push Thursday to reopen the government for a short period without funding the wall. But amid conservative backlash, Trump turned against it, resulting in the shutdown.
As he met with conservative leaders at the White House on Wednesday, Trump signaled his willingness to alter his own proposal, according to Jenny Beth Martin, head of Tea Party Patriots, who attended.
“He did allude to the fact more than one time that what we have now is not going to be the final bill,” Martin said.
Sean Sullivan and Rhonda Colvin contributed to this report.