The two sides of the partial federal government shutdown remained far apart on Monday, as day 17 of the closure rolled on after a weekend of fruitless meetings between the White House and representatives of Democrats in Congress.
Donald Trump, unmoved in his demand for $5.6bn to fund a wall on the border with Mexico, tweeted that Sunday’s meeting had been “productive”.
But Democrats panned his idea of a concession, floated on the Sunday talk shows: to build the wall with steel, rather than concrete.
All the while, about 800,000 federal workers remained without pay, either at home or on the job, and key government services faced increasing strain and closure.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told NBC that if the shutdown continues into Tuesday, “then payroll will not go out as originally planned on Friday night”.
Speaking to reporters as he left the White House for Camp David, Trump claimed many workers without pay “agree 100% with what I’m doing”. Returning, he said: “They will make an adjustment because they want to see the border taken care of.”
The president also floated the idea of declaring a national emergency, thereby circumventing Congress to build his wall. It may have merely been a tactic designed to push Democrats to do a deal but Trump’s opponents said such a move would be, in the words of congressman Adam Schiff, a “non-starter”, subject to fierce opposition and legal challenges.
On Monday morning, Trump tweeted three times complaining about the media, then quoted the new chairman of the House armed services committee, Adam Smith, as saying: “Yes, there is a provision in law that says a president can declare an emergency. It’s been done a number of times.”
Congressman Adam Smith, the new Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, just stated, “Yes, there is a provision in law that says a president can declare an emergency. It’s been done a number of times.” No doubt, but let’s get our deal done in Congress!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 7, 2019
Trump omitted the rest of Smith’s comment, which came from a Sunday interview on ABC. Smith continued to say: “But primarily it’s been done to build facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq. In this case, I think the president would be wide open to a court challenge saying: ‘Where is the emergency?’”
New House speaker Nancy Pelosi will this week start passing bills to reopen government agencies, starting with the treasury in an attempt to ensure people receive tax refunds threatened by the government closure.
The moves are meant to pressure Senate Republicans currently sitting out the fight, as leader Mitch McConnell seeks to avoid political damage. Among Senate GOP moderates, Susan Collins of Maine expressed support for the Democratic move on Sunday.
“Let’s get those reopened while the negotiations continue,” she told NBC.
Outside the White House on Sunday, Trump said he “can relate” to the federal employees who aren’t being paid during the shutdown.
Of the 800,000 workers directly affected, about 420,000 are estimated to be working without pay because they are considered essential. These workers typically receive back pay after a shutdown ends, but it is not guaranteed.
Some of those workers, such as Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport screeners, have been calling out sick at higher rates than usual. Union representatives said this is because workers are being forced to take temporary jobs or cannot afford childcare.
Federal workers have warned the shutdown will have long-term effects.
Hundreds of immigrants court hearings have been cancelled, exacerbating an existing backlog of more than a million cases. And hundreds of government scientists say they will miss crucial opportunities to exchange research and ideas because the shutdown is stopping them from attending major scientific conferences about technology, space exploration and climate change.