The shutdown of the United States federal government stretched into Monday as Republicans and Democrats traded recriminations and appeared no closer to a compromise that would fund the government and resolve a clash over immigration.
For President Donald Trump, it was a sour beginning to his second year in office. Not only is he presiding over the first government shutdown in five years, but hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets over the weekend in protests animated by opposition to the White House.
As Washington remained gripped by dysfunction ahead of a new work week, the shutdown’s impact began to ripple across the country. Members of the military on active duty, law-enforcement officers and health inspectors continued to work, but without pay.
More than 700,000 federal employees may be told not to come to the office, slowing down or suspending normal government activity. Those workers will not be paid until the shutdown ends, a difficult prospect for some families. Meanwhile, certain government functions that Americans take for granted – such as renewing a passport or staying in a campground at a national park – will be difficult or impossible.
With each passing day, the hazards for both parties and Mr. Trump increase. Democrats risk being tarred as obstructionists, while Republicans – who control both houses of Congress and the White House – could be portrayed as incapable of making the compromises necessary to govern. Mr. Trump, for his part, is facing a crucial test of his ability to lead.
On Sunday, lawmakers focused on forging a short-term deal that would fund the government through Feb. 8, likely in exchange for some type of assurance that a bipartisan immigration proposal would be considered by Congress. Republicans in the Senate have scheduled a vote for noon on Monday on the stopgap measure.
But Democrats evinced little enthusiasm for such a compromise. It would represent a Band-Aid rather than a cure – ending the shutdown but leaving underlying differences over immigration and spending still to be resolved.
Democrats pointed a finger at Mr. Trump, saying his mercurial approach to the talks had repeatedly scuttled chances to reach a deal. “Negotiating with President Trump is like negotiating with Jell-O,” said Charles Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader. “It’s next to impossible.”
Republicans fired back, accusing Democrats of using the spending package to advance an unrelated priority – resolving the status of hundreds of thousands of “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. That approach is “utter madness,” said Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Mr. Trump was supposed to spend the weekend in Florida celebrating the first anniversary of his inauguration with a gala at Mar-a-Lago, his private club. Instead he remained in Washington as lawmakers sought a way out of the impasse. Members of both parties, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have complained about a lack of clarity around Mr. Trump’s ultimate goals.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Trump convened lawmakers at the White House, called for a “bill of love” to protect Dreamers and said he would sign whatever measure members of Congress agreed upon. The same week, lawmakers presented him with a bipartisan proposal, but he shot it down at an acrimonious meeting during which he reportedly questioned why immigrants were entering the United States from “shithole” countries in Africa.
On Sunday, Mr. Trump placed the blame for the stalemate on his opponents and the rules of the Senate. He voiced his support for the “nuclear option,” which would terminate the procedural rule in the Senate that Democrats are using to hold up the spending package.
To advance legislation to a final vote requires a super-majority of 60 votes and Republicans currently hold 51 seats in the chamber (their task was further complicated by the fact that five Republican senators joined with Democrats in opposing a funding extension). But senators of both parties remain opposed to changing the rules.
Whether the continuing standoff will wound Mr. Trump remains to be seen. The last time the government shut down in 2013, polls showed that voters supported president Barack Obama’s decision to stand firm against the Republican demand that he dismantle the health-care law known as Obamacare. Yet Republicans also fared well in the subsequent midterm elections, raising the question of whether the stalemate had any lasting impact on voters.
“The political stakes as to who gets helped and who gets hurt are so uncertain,” said Chris Lu, a former Obama administration official who is now a senior fellow at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. And in today’s fast-paced and volatile political environment, any “advantage or disadvantage could be mitigated next week by another news event.”
The headwinds facing Mr. Trump and Republicans were evident over the weekend as women took to the streets in a replay of the protests that occurred a year ago across the United States. In some cities, including Austin, Tex., and Chicago, the turnout exceeded last year’s tally, propelled by the administration’s policies and a nationwide reckoning over sexual assault and harassment.
In New York, the turnout was lower than in 2017, but more than 200,000 people still marched down the west side of Central Park. As they passed in front of a building bearing Mr. Trump’s name in gold letters, they chanted their disapproval by repeating a single word: Shame. Shame. Shame.
On Sunday, the organizers of women’s marches held a large rally in Las Vegas to kick off an ambitious voter registration drive, an attempt to translate the energy in the streets into victories at the ballot box in November (at the protest in New York, some protesters held signs reading, “Grab him by the midterms,” a reference to a 2005 recording in which Mr. Trump boasted about grabbing women’s genitals).
If Democrats were looking for reasons to hold firm in the shutdown negotiations, then the marchers were happy to provide them. “I don’t think anybody wants to shut down the government,” said Diane Stark, 69, a retiree from Long Island, N.Y., who attended Saturday’s march in Manhattan. “But at some point you need to show that you’re serious about what you stand for.”
The Globe and Mail, January 21, 2018