WASHINGTON (AP) — Staring down the next deadline to pay federal workers, the White House shifted tactics, trying to bypass House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to negotiate with rank-and-file lawmakers even as President Donald Trump dug in for a prolonged shutdown.
The House and Senate announced on Tuesday they would stay in session, cancelling an upcoming recess week at home if the shutdown continued, which seemed likely. On the shutdown’s 25th day, Trump did not move off his demand to have Congress provide USD5.7 billion to build his promised border wall with Mexico. Democrats say they will discuss border security once the government has reopened, but Pelosi is refusing money for the wall they view as ineffective and immoral.
The President, on a conference call with supporters, showed no signs of backing down.
“We’re going to stay out for a long time, if we have to,” Trump said. “We’ll be out for a long time.”
With some 800,000 federal employees furloughed or working without pay, Trump suggested the partial shutdown that has clogged airport security lines and shuttered federal agencies was going smoothly.
“People are very impressed with how well government is working with the circumstances that we’re under,” Trump said.
Behind the scenes, though, the administration — and its allies on Capitol Hill — are warily eyeing the next payday, hoping to reach a resolution before next week’s Tuesday deadline when they’ll need to prepare the next round of pay cheques for workers who have been seeing zeros on their pay slips.
“There is definitely a sense that there is a deadline approaching, which would be next Tuesday, to make sure that we’re able to solve this problem,” said Mercedes Schlapp, a White House spokeswoman.
Tuesday brought another day of high theatrics, but low substance, as the shutdown dragged into its fourth week.
The President, who a week ago seemed intent on declaring a national emergency in order to build the wall, has turned his attention back to Congress as polling shows he is taking much of the blame for the standoff.
The White House invited rank-and-file lawmakers to lunch with Trump at the White House as part of a strategy to build support from centrist Democrats and newly elected freshmen, including those from areas where the President is popular with voters.
But the White House quickly learned the limits of that approach. None of the House Democrats took Trump up on the offer.
One, Representative Lou Correa, D-Calif, “welcomes the opportunity to talk with the President about border security,” his spokesman said, “as soon as the government is reopened.”
Trump ended up lunching with a handful of lesser-known House Republicans. The White House will try again later this week, inviting a bipartisan group of lawmakers known as the Problem Solvers caucus to talks.
Trump urged his supporters to call the offices of Democratic lawmakers to press them to support the wall to reopen the government.
A short time later, a group of House Democrats made its way to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office demanding that he consider House-passed bills to fund the government.
McConnell was not in his office at the time, so the Democrats left a note.