The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Congress to pursue divergent paths to reopening government, but stalemate no closer to resolution

Members of Congress discussed ways to break the funding impasse on Jan. 20, the 30th day of a partial government shutdown. (Video: Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)

Congress takes up legislation in coming days to reopen the federal government after a new offer from President Trump, but divergent efforts in the House and Senate look destined to go nowhere, leaving hundreds of thousands of federal workers facing a second missed paycheck at week’s end with the impasse no closer to resolution.

The Senate, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), will take up a proposal announced by Trump on Saturday to trade temporary protections for young undocumented immigrants and others for $5.7 billion the president is seeking for his border wall. The legislation, released late Monday, would reopen the government through Sept. 30 while funding a variety of other immigration security measures and spending $12.7 billion on hurricane and wildfire disaster relief. But Democrats have rejected the plan, so it appears unlikely to garner the 60 votes necessary to advance.

Trump and Pelosi take aim at each other during shutdown

The House, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), will pass a series of spending bills that would reopen portions of the government that have nothing to do with the wall. The legislation will include some security priorities supported by both parties, including a total of about $1 billion for immigration judges and ports of entry along the border. But the House legislation is dead on arrival in the Senate, where McConnell has made clear he will not advance any spending bills Trump won’t sign.

The bill being voted on in the Senate also contains significant changes to asylum procedures for Central American minors, a fact that came to light only when the legislation was released late Monday night and sparked an angry reaction from immigrant rights activists. The legislation would require these minors to apply for asylum in their home countries, not at the U.S. border, as now occurs, and they would be returned home if they sought to apply for asylum at the U.S. border. It would also put new caps on asylum claims from Central American minors.

These changes, along with some others in the bill, appeared certain to harden Democratic opposition to the legislation.

The partial government shutdown, already the longest in U.S. history, entered its 31st day Monday.

Even if Trump’s proposal fails in the Senate, Republicans hope to use the development to put the onus on Democrats and cast them as the ones who are standing in the way of solving the shutdown, after a series of public polls have shown Trump blamed more than Democrats for the impasse.

“Democrats are kidding themselves (they don’t really believe it!) if they say you can stop Crime, Drugs, Human Trafficking and Caravans without a Wall or Steel Barrier. Stop playing games and give America the Security it deserves. A Humanitarian Crisis!” Trump wrote Monday on Twitter.

“Nothing has changed with the latest Republican offer; President Trump and Senate Republicans are still saying, ‘Support my plan or the government stays shut.’ That isn’t a compromise or a negotiation — it’s simply more hostage-taking,” said Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). “Democrats are staying firm with our position: Open the government first, and then we can have a serious discussion about the issues at hand.”

Trump also planned to meet with conservative leaders on Tuesday to sell them on his plan, according to an official familiar with the meeting, following criticism coming from some on the right who have characterized it as “amnesty” for unauthorized immigrants.

For their part, House Democrats have been discussing the need to set out in greater detail their own priorities for border security, to show what they support and not just what they oppose, an effort that is expected to be fleshed out this week and could take the shape of a public announcement or legislation to fund the Homeland Security Department, which has been shut down along with dozens of other agencies since Dec. 22. The Democratic priorities could include funding for things such as sensors, drones and more customs officers — but no money for Trump’s wall, aides said.

The shutdown is beginning to hurt the American economy amid a number of emerging threats to the nation’s economic health, from Trump’s ongoing trade war to slowing expansions in China and Germany. JPMorgan projected that the economy is losing at least $1.5 billion a week from the shutdown, and financial elites gathered this week in Davos, Switzerland, have expressed alarm that another recession may be on the horizon.

The Trump administration has taken certain steps to blunt the impact of the shutdown, effects of which will nevertheless multiply over time, including at airports, where Transportation Security Administration employees are increasingly calling out sick. The TSA says that as of Sunday, 10 percent of employees are taking unscheduled absences, compared with 3.1 percent a year ago. “Many employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations,” the agency said.

TSA checkpoint worker no-shows peak at 10 percent of the workforce

Without action by Congress and Trump, hundreds of thousands of federal employees are also set to miss their second paycheck Friday. On Sunday, the National Governors Association sent a letter to congressional leaders saying some states are beginning to run out of money to pay federal welfare benefits used by 1 million adults and 2.5 million children, with North Carolina expected to exhaust its funding in early February.

The Trump administration also provided money for states to administer food stamps through February but has said it cannot guarantee that benefits would continue should the shutdown stretch into March.

It is also not clear if the Internal Revenue Service, working with only 60 percent of its overall staff, is prepared for tax filing season to begin this month.

Schumer released legislation Sunday to prohibit landlords from evicting federal workers or contractors hurt by the shutdown, although that bill was not expected to pass.

Trump’s proposal Saturday represented his first attempt since the shutdown began to offer a broader deal that would involve both border security and other parts of the immigration system. The president offered three years of deportation protections for immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children and had qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which the president terminated earlier in his tenure. (A federal court has delayed the end of the program.)

Democrats rejected the proposal from the start, saying that the government cannot be held hostage and must be reopened before negotiations on immigration policy can begin. They added they would not trade a temporary measure for a permanent wall and pointed out that Trump was offering only to temporarily prolong a program he tried to kill. Trump also offered to back off plans to end a program, known as temporary protected status, that has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to come to the United States after fleeing natural disasters and violent conflict at home. All told, about 1 million immigrants covered under DACA and TPS would be eligible for temporary relief, the administration said.

Even as his proposal was rejected by Democrats, Trump also faced fire from some conservatives who derided his immigration overtures as “amnesty,” although the opposition did not appear as widespread as last year’s when similar complaints torpedoed an even bigger deal that would have created a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants while fully funding Trump’s border wall.

Trump’s offer, followed by its swift rejection by Democrats and the hard right, left the shutdown looking as intractable as ever — even while serving as evidence that Republicans are growing uneasy about allowing the shutdown to continue indefinitely. Democrats have maintained a united front throughout the standoff, and after Pelosi released a letter last week suggesting Trump delay his Jan. 29 State of the Union address unless the shutdown has been resolved, McConnell encouraged Trump to shift the debate by making his new offer, which McConnell promised to bring to a vote — even though McConnell had previously said that only a bipartisan agreement would break the impasse.

The shutdown is affecting about a quarter of federal agencies but is limited in scope because Congress passed legislation funding the Pentagon and some other major agencies, including the Health and Human Services Department. Medicare and Social Security benefits are not affected because they flow independently of congressional appropriations.

Trump long claimed that the border wall would be paid for by Mexico before he started demanding billions from U.S. taxpayers to build it. The $5.7 billion he is asking for now would pay for about 230 miles of new wall.