WASHINGTON – The partial government shutdown has matched the longest in modern US history, an impasse of 21 days under President Bill Clinton.
With no end in sight, the current shutdown entered its 22nd day early Saturday morning, and at day’s end will eclipse the shutdown that stretched from Dec. 16, 1995, to Jan. 6, 1996.
President Trump and Congress have been at an impasse for weeks over whether to fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump has demanded $5.7 billion to build the wall as a condition of reopening the government, which Democratic leaders have rejected.
Trump vacillated Friday about whether he would declare a national emergency to build the wall. With no clear path forward, the president earlier in the week had said he would do so, and divert money from other departments to build the wall without congressional approval, a move that could pave the way to end the shutdown while provoking a legal fight.
But Trump said Friday that “what we’re not looking to do right now” is a national emergency. “I’m not going to do it so fast,” he said in a White House meeting on border security.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of federal employees missed their first paychecks Friday, raising the pressure on lawmakers and the White House to end the shutdown.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), who has told the president the House won’t include wall funding in a spending bill, called the extended shutdown “totally unnecessary.”
With negotiations unsuccessful, staff at the White House Office of Management and Budget are laying the groundwork for the shutdown to continue through the end of February, according to White House officials who have been briefed on the plans.
In addition, White House officials said, the notion among some advisers is to use their captive audience for the Jan. 29 State of the Union address to have the president admonish lawmakers for a shutdown that at that point would be on its 39th day. It was unclear whether Trump has been briefed on these discussions.
Some administration officials argue that the White House can risk extending the shutdown because many of the political pressure points that would motivate leaders to find a solution have moderated.
Enough temporary funding is available for millions of Americans to continue to receive food stamps through February, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has said. The Internal Revenue Service will pay tax refunds even though the agency is subject to the shutdown, after the Trump administration reversed a longstanding policy.
In one sign that lawmakers are feeling some pressure, the House on Friday passed a bill approving back pay for federal employees who missed their paychecks because of the shutdown.
The bill, which the Senate approved late Thursday, mandates that the roughly 420,000 essential employees now working without pay and the 380,000 furloughed workers be compensated as soon as the government reopens. Trump said Friday he would sign the bill.
If Trump declares a national emergency, officials may divert military construction funds to build the wall. Federal law allows the president to halt military construction projects and divert those funds for the emergency.
“I don’t want him to do that,” said Rep. Roger Williams (R., Texas), whose district includes Fort Hood. The army base has projects at its barracks and elsewhere that Williams said he didn’t want to see delayed.
“I would hate to see that money moved around,” he added.
Lawmakers from both parties expressed concern Friday about another financing option the administration is considering: asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to look into projects approved in a 2018 bill providing disaster relief for Puerto Rico, Texas, California and Florida to see whether funding could be diverted to build the wall if he declares border security an emergency.
“It’s going to piss off a lot of members,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R., Idaho), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee.
Democrats warned that if Trump declares a national emergency to build the wall, he could set a precedent that could backfire on Republicans under a future Democratic president.
“They should be concerned that if he wants something passed, he or she is going to try to bypass the Congress by going this particular route,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D., Texas).
But some Republicans pushed Trump to declare an emergency, given the impasse with Democrats.
“President, Declare a national emergency NOW,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said on Twitter Friday. “Build a wall NOW.”
Meanwhile, in the Senate, groups of Republicans continued to search for agreements they hoped would chart a path out of the impasse.
On Friday, Sens. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) and Jerry Moran (R., Kansas) introduced legislation that would establish a $25 billion trust fund for border security to pay for at least 700 miles of reinforced fencing, additional physical barriers and more technology.
The bill also would include protections for a group of undocumented immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. at a young age by their parents. Trump ended an Obama-era program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA, shielding hundreds of thousands of the immigrants from deportation, but his action was rejected by an appeals court in November. The issue is expected to be reviewed by the Supreme Court.
The bill from Portman and Moran would allow the immigrants, known as Dreamers, to continue to renew their protected status every two years.
Under the DACA program, immigrants were granted renewable protection from deportation for two years. It allowed recipients to get work permits and have access to health care from their employers. It doesn’t offer a path to citizenship.
Democrats are unlikely to view the bill as a fair trade, as it swaps $25 billion in border security for legal status – and not a path to citizenship – for the young immigrants, an aide said.
The Portman-Moran deal is different from what Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) had previously discussed with Trump. Those negotiations centered on a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants, in exchange for $25 billion for a wall. Trump indicated to lawmakers this week that he believes the time to address the DACA population is after a Supreme Court ruling on it.