Little Progress in Negotiations as Shutdown Enters Third Week


A meeting yesterday between White House senior officials and congressional staff “did not make much progress,” according to the White House, as the impasse that has caused parts of the federal government to shut down enters its third week.

“We didn’t make much progress at the meeting, which was surprising to me,” said White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who was in the meeting. “I thought we had come in to talk about terms that we could agree on, places where we all agreed we should be spending more time, more attention, things we could do to improve our border security. And yet the opening line from one of the lead Democrat negotiators was that they were not there to talk about any agreement.”

Mulvaney, along with senior White House adviser and the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner were part of the delegation headed by Vice President Mike Pence charged with hashing out an agreement to reopen the government. Pence and the others met with staffers from the offices of both Democratic and Republican congressional leaders.

President Trump indicated that a second meeting of the working group would be set for today. “V.P. Mike Pence and team just left the White House. Briefed me on their meeting with the Schumer/Pelosi representatives. Not much headway made today. Second meeting set for tomorrow. After so many decades, must finally and permanently fix the problems on the Southern Border!” he wrote on Twitter.

At the heart of the impasse is funding for the President’s border wall along the southern border. Mr. Trump wants $5.6 billion to begin construction of the wall, as well as additional border security measures. Democrats have agreed to keep border security funding at last year’s level – $1.3 billion – and have refused to approve any additional funds to be used specifically for the wall.

According to the President today’s meeting was a bit more productive.

“V.P. Mike Pence and group had a productive meeting with the Schumer/Pelosi representatives today. Many details of Border Security were discussed. We are now planning a Steel Barrier rather than concrete. It is both stronger & less obtrusive. Good solution, and made in the U.S.A.” the President wrote on after being briefed on today’s meeting, referring to Democratic congressional leaders Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer.

Instead of concrete, the President has for several weeks proposed erecting a steel slat barrier with pointed tops in lieu of a solid barrier. Law enforcement officials have advised the administration that a barrier through which authorities can see through to the other side would be more effective from a security point of view.

It’s unclear whether the difference in structural details will garner any congressional Democratic votes.

“We’re not doing a wall. Does anybody have any doubt that we’re not doing a wall, so that’s it,” Speaker Pelosi told reporters defiantly hours after being sworn in as Speaker of the House.

The federal shutdown affects about 800,000 government employees. About 380,000 federal workers have been furloughed and more than 420,000 are currently working without pay. The pay period ending Friday January 11 is set to be the first period affected by the shutdown. The government would have to reopen by Tuesday, January 8 in order for employees to be paid on time for that pay period.

It has not yet been determined whether these employees will receive back pay if and when the government reopens if pay periods are missed.

The shutdown is partial, so aspects of the Federal Government continue to function including the military, the U.S. Postal Service and the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs. Agencies and services that have seen interruptions include National Parks, the IRS and environmental and food inspections.

Photo by NPCA via Flickr