Well into the third week of the partial government shutdown, the static nature of the actual state of things on Capitol Hill is really quite amazing.
There are still no serious talks. The bottom-line positions of the leaders from both sides don’t just remain unchanged, they appear to be further entrenched, with the Trump administration making a heavy push, including a personal visit from President Donald Trump to Capitol Hill Wednesday, to keep Republicans behind their effort. Barring a sudden reversal by the President, this isn’t ending anytime soon.
Keep a close eye on all the ways the Trump administration is attempting to mitigate the pain of the shutdown because it actually gives you the best possible window into the state of play. Tax refunds will go out. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, is funded through February. Tapping into visitor fees to clean national parks. They are actively (and sometimes with questionable legal basis) stepping in to prevent the very things that often force lawmakers to the table amid a stream of angry constituents. At the moment, that really only means one thing, according to a senior GOP official with a key role in all of this: “They are in this for the long haul.”
To watch Wednesday
- Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer hold a news conference with furloughed workers at 11 a.m. ET.
- Trump comes to Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Republicans at 12:45 p.m.
- Senate Leadership news conferences at 2 p.m.
- Congressional leaders go to the White House to meet with the President on the shutdown at 3 p.m.
- Late afternoon, the House will vote on a bill to reopen the financial services-related government agencies.
The canaries in the coal mine
This – a report about cracks emerging among Senate Republicans – is the most important story of the day, captured perfectly by CNN’s Manu Raju and Clare Foran.
This is the reason Vice President Mike Pence and top administration officials met with House Republicans Tuesday night. This is the reason Trump is coming to meet with Senate Republicans Wednesday. The President’s strategy of holding firm – something Pence made clear behind closed doors Tuesday night was, indeed, the strategy with no hedging about it, according to a member in the room – is only as good as the party unity that stands behind it. If Republicans start to bail in large numbers, the President will be left with no real choice but to blink.
The President still has a critical mass of congressional Republicans behind him, and the congressional leadership is firmly behind the White House on this. They are not at a tipping point yet and the vast majority of Republicans are more frustrated with Democrats refusing to give an inch on the wall than the White House.
To be perfectly clear
But the longer the shutdown goes with no offramp and the more senators and House members hear from their constituents, in the words of a House GOP leadership aide: “Members are only going to get more pissed off.”
Why the concern
We’ve been reporting for the past few days that behind the scenes, Republicans on both sides of the chamber have been growing skittish about the White House strategy and the length of the shutdown. The primary reason, according to one House Republican I spoke to Tuesday night: “We’ve been in a vacuum. Nobody tells us anything, and we just have to trust that this guy will figure it out. That’s a tough ask at this point.”
That’s precisely why you’ve seen the administration blitz over the last two days. Dozens of phone calls to members from several different top administration officials. Pence to the Hill to calm and rally House Republicans. The President to the Hill to calm and rally Senate Republicans. They’re trying to fill that vacuum and keep their party in line.
The first test
House Democrats will be putting individual appropriations bills on the floor throughout this week in an effort to put pressure on Republicans. The first, the Financial Services measure (think Treasury Department, financial regulatory agencies, the Internal Revenue Service) comes up for a vote Wednesday afternoon. House GOP leaders felt Pence’s presence Tuesday night helped in their effort to keep their rank-and-file from voting with Democrats on these bills. But this will be a test of that.
No matter what the House passes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has maintained, and repeated on the Senate floor Tuesday, that he will not take anything up in the chamber until Trump says publicly he will sign it.
Rank-and-file members in both parties want this to end and feel, by and large, they are all just bystanders in this process, waiting for the President to blink or leadership to figure something out.
“It’s all just bulls*** at this point,” one frustrated Democratic senator told me Tuesday.
About that national emergency idea
Trump may still be weighing declaring a national emergency to try and secure funding for the border wall, but keep in mind that money would come from somewhere. As in, the Department of Defense. And for defense hawks on Capitol Hill, that’s not a good solution.
“In short, I am opposed to using defense dollars for nondefense purposes,” House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry told reporters Tuesday, per CNN’s Ashley Killough. “Seems to me we ought to fund border security needs on their own and not be taking it from other accounts.”
I’m told that view is pretty universal among the membership of the House and Senate Armed Services panels. Just something to keep in mind in the days ahead …