How Long Will the Shutdown Mess Last?

How Long Will the Shutdown Mess Last?


There was no deal. There is no deal. And there isn’t likely to be a deal anytime soon.

Large portions of the federal government shut down early Saturday and are likely to remain closed until at least Thursday after President Trump earlier scuttled a bipartisan short-term spending bill and insisted on additional money to build a wall — or fence-like structure of some sort — along the border with Mexico.

A late scramble by White House and congressional negotiators Friday evening failed to break the impasse over the president’s demand for $5 billion in wall funding, and there were no signs of significant progress on Saturday, even as Vice President Mike Pence returned to the Capitol for talks with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). As a result, nine of 15 Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies will be closed well into next week, and possibly much longer, after their funding expired Friday at midnight. It is the third government shutdown of the year.

On Saturday, Trump delayed plans for a 16-day trip to his Mar-A-Lago resort in Florida. He had lunch at the White House with a group of conservative lawmakers, many of whom reportedly pushed Trump to continue fighting for border wall funding.

The House and Senate opened at noon Saturday, but both chambers quickly adjourned for the weekend without any votes. Many lawmakers left the capital Friday night to return home, having been assured that they would get 24 hours notice before any vote to reopen to government (though if a deal does come together, it could be put up for a voice vote that wouldn’t require senators to return to Capitol Hill). Senate Chaplain Barry Black, in his Saturday morning prayer, reportedly asked that the Senate be saved "from the pitfalls of partisan brinkmanship." That prayer is unlikely to be answered for days, or even weeks.

One senior Republican aide told Politico that there may be no significant movement until after Christmas. Another told the site that if negotiators don’t reach a quick compromise over the weekend, the shutdown is likely to drag on until January, when Democrats take control of the House. Trump tweeted Saturday: “We are negotiating with the Democrats on desperately needed Border Security ... but it could be a long stay.”

Trump also continues to make it more difficult to reach a deal by refusing to specify or signal what kind of compromise he would accept. Lawmakers are reticent to support any compromise without assurances that the president will sign off on it.

As the standoff continues, most Americans likely won’t notice any immediate effects of the shutdown, especially given the upcoming holiday, but some 800,000 of the 2.1 million federal workers nationwide will be affected, with 420,000 “essential” employees, including Border Patrol agents and Transportation Security Administration officials, required to work without pay and another 380,000 forced to take unpaid leave until a deal is reached. The next paycheck for furloughed federal workers isn’t due to be processed until January 11, a Republican source told Politico — timing that lessens the urgency of reaching a deal. A number of other federal agencies, including the military, won’t be affected by the shutdown because Congress already passed bills funding them through September.

For more on the effects of the partial shutdown, see our piece from Friday.

Here’s what you need to know as the shutdown fight continues:

Trump probably can’t win this fight: The president’s best hope may be to ratchet up pressure on Democrats and try to pin the blame for the shutdown on them, as he has over the past couple of days. The House vote Thursday night passing $5.7 billion in wall funding helps a bit in that regard by positioning Senate Democrats as blocking a measure that would have kept the government open. But Trump’s comment last week that he’d be “proud” to shut down the government over border security makes it nearly impossible to lay blame elsewhere.

Democrats have little incentive to give in: Democrats will take control of the House when a new Congress convenes on January 3, and they plan to pass legislation to re-open the government and provide $1.3 billion in border security funding as one of their first acts, giving them additional leverage in the current battle. “President Trump, you will not get your wall,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Friday. “You’re not getting your wall today, next week or on Jan. 3 when Democrats take control of the House.”

And Trump is likely to get the public blame: A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed that 51 percent of voters would primarily blame Trump and congressional Republicans in Congress for the shutdown, while 37 percent would blame congressional Democrats more. And Quinnipiac polling also finds that most Americans still oppose Trump’s wall.

But winning may not be the point: Even if the shutdown won’t result in money for a wall, Trump’s willingness to push for one was about pleasing his conservative base, especially after he faced withering criticism from Fox News and right-wing firebrands Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh when, earlier in the week, he signaled he’d sign off on a bipartisan stopgap measure to keep the government open without funding a wall. “Trump’s advisers acknowledged that the funding may not be secured in the end but boasted that the spectacle would be remembered favorably by his base voters as proof of his mettle,” The Washington Post reported Thursday. And the Post’s editorial board added: “Any doubt that it is politics — not principle — driving Mr. Trump was erased when he flip-flopped this week on the stopgap spending bill.” That’s bound to affect his standing with moderate voters, but this standoff may not matter much to them by 2020. Trump also has other, more immediate concerns: As The New York Times Editorial Board noted, “revving up the wall fight allows Mr. Trump to divert attention from so much of the other drama threatening to swallow him up.”

Trump may be undermining his support among congressional Republicans: Combined with the president’s sudden decisions to withdraw American troops from Syria and Afghanistan, and the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the shutdown over border wall funding has some Republican lawmakers angry or nervous about the path of the Trump presidency — and its impact on their own political prospects. “By placating the far right on immigration, embracing his instincts on foreign policy and unnerving investors with his trade wars and policy gyrations, Mr. Trump is elevating the nativist and noninterventionist elements of his party,” The New York Times reported. “In doing so, he is deeply straining his most important links to mainstream Republican governance, and the national security hawks and conservative business executives who have long been pillars of the right.”

And the shutdown may heighten Wall Street’s fears: While the partial shutdown isn’t likely to cause a sizable economic hit — credit rating analysts at Standard & Poor’s estimate that it could trim $1.2 billion a week from U.S. gross domestic product, according to the Times — it once again raises concerns about the country’s dysfunctional governance. “The shutdown could also contribute to the growing sense of worry on Wall Street, in part by raising fears about the ability of Congress to manage a more consequential deadline: the need to authorize an increase in government borrowing before the federal debt reaches the current limit, most likely in March,” the Times’ Alan Rappeport and Binyamin Appelbaum noted.