It looked for a moment on Thursday that a bipartisan Senate group was making progress on a deal to end the shutdown. President Trump then threw a wall up in front of the compromise.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and a bipartisan group of senators talked up a new potential agreement to fund the government for a few weeks so they could negotiate around the wall and other immigration measures. Graham said he talked to Trump, who didn’t rule out the measure. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) huddled in McConnell’s office to try and break the logjam. Schumer was tight-lipped as he exited the meeting with McConnell, repeating “we’re talking” with a smile roughly a dozen times as he walked back to his own office. And for the first time in weeks, it seemed like some progress was being made.
Then the White House chimed in.
“As was made clear to Senator Lindsay Graham, the 3 week CR [continuing resolution] would only work if there is a large down payment on the wall,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement as McConnell and Schumer met.
That was met with an icy stare from Democrats.
Sen. Angus King (I-ME), a moderate who caucuses with Democrats, talked up the new potential compromise to reporters after exiting the Senate floor Thursday afternoon. A reporter then read him Sanders’ statement.
“That presupposes the outcome of the discussions. The down payment for me is my expression of good faith, entering into this in a good-faith way,” King said, accusing Trump of “short-circuiting the process” once again.
“I wish the President would quit thinking of the shutdown as a weapon. He’s basically saying ‘give me what I want,’ or in this case ‘give me a part of what I want, or I’ll shut the government down.’ That’s what we’re trying to get away from here,” King continued. “I don’t like rewarding shutdown politics.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), another dealmaker, was even more frustrated by the White House’s latest stance.
“So we hold people’s wages hostage for a large down payment on a wall that the majority of Americans don’t believe is the most effective thing? So then what does he hold their wages hostage for next?” she asked incredulously. “How many times will he continue to hold federal employees’ wages hostage if he is able to feel that this is a successful strategy? It’s just plain wrong. He’s got to stop it.”
At the White House, Trump told reporters that “we have to have a wall” in any deal while threatening “alternatives,” a seemingly veiled threat at declaring a national emergency at the border.
And he claimed that “one of the ideas suggested is they open, they pay some sort of pro-rated down payment on the wall, which you need” — not what Democrats were discussing.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Trump was “not reliable” and couldn’t be negotiated with in good faith.
“I assume he’s telling the truth as much as he was when he gave his solemn word that Mexico was going to pay for the wall. I guess the check’s in the mail somewhere,” he told TPM.
This story was updated at 5:20 p.m.