Prospects for a quick end to the partial federal government shutdown dimmed Saturday as congressional Democrats and the White House failed to resolve their debate over President Trump’s demand for $5billion in funding for his Mexican border wall.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced late Saturday afternoon that the Senate would not reconvene until Thursday, ensuring that the shutdown would last through Christmas and probably longer.
Although McConnell described the ongoing discussions as “productive,” he said there would be no Senate votes until all sides could agree on a way forward.
The president continued to lob accusations at Democrats, saying they are jeopardizing the nation’s security by opposing funding for the wall.
Democrats charge the president with manufacturing a crisis rather than working on a compromise that could pass both the House and Senate.
The stalemate closed roughly one-fourth of the U.S. government as of Saturday, and although most Americans are unlikely to see the impact over the holidays, several hundred thousand federal employees may go without pay unless the White House and Congress can reach a deal.
Resolving the stalemate has been complicated, in part, by the president’s shifting positions on what he might be willing to accept.
Trump initially said he would support a bipartisan spending bill that was passed by the Senate and that did not include funding for a wall.
But by midweek, he said he would not sign the measure unless it had money for his wall. The president then attacked Democrats, warning that a shutdown “will last for a very long time” and later tweeting that “The Democrats now own the shutdown!”
Trump is facing intense pressure from conservatives to insist on wall funding, though polls show most Americans do not support that position.
On Saturday, Trump called a lunch meeting with Vice President Mike Pence; his senior aide, son-in-law Jared Kushner; acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney; and several Republican lawmakers, including members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which is pressing for wall money. The attendee list included no congressional Democrats.
Afterward, Trump tweeted: “The crisis of illegal activity at our Southern Border is real and will not stop until we build a great Steel Barrier or Wall. Let work begin!”
A senior administration official, in a call with reporters, showed no indication that the White House was prepared to back down from Trump’s demand for wall funding.
“We have continued to put forth what we think is an important expectation for these negotiations, which is $5 billion in border security,” the official said.
Later Saturday, the White House announced that the president would further delay his plans to go to Florida for the Christmas holiday.
Senate Democrats, who have offered up to $1.6 billion for border security, but not for a wall, expressed frustration and again countered Trump’s effort to pin the blame for the shutdown on Democrats.
“Regrettably, America has now entered a Trump Shutdown,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement. “Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the White House. But instead of honoring his responsibility to the American people, President Trump threw a temper tantrum and convinced House Republicans to push our nation into a destructive Trump Shutdown in the middle of the holiday season,” they said.
“President Trump has said more than 25 times that he wanted a shutdown and now he has gotten what he wanted.”
The initial effect of the government shutdown, the third since Trump took office, is relatively minor. Congress had previously approved spending measures to keep most of the government operating, including core functions like the Postal Service, the military and entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
The impact of the impasse will also be blunted by normal holiday closures.
Still, the shutdown will hit nine federal agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce and the Interior, which includes national parks. Roughly 380,000 workers will be furloughed and some 420,000 employees whose jobs are considered essential will be forced to work without pay, although they will probably be paid retroactively.
In California, victims of the wildfires that devastated parts of the state will not have to add a government shutdown to their list of troubles, federal authorities said Friday.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency said its workers would stay on the job. Since the Camp fire tore through the town of Paradise and other parts of Butte County and the Woolsey fire burned through a large swath of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, hundreds of FEMA employees have been in the state to help with the emergency response.
National parks across the country have managed to stay open this weekend as well, in some cases partially.
At Joshua Tree National Park, the visitors center was shuttered and organized ranger activities were curtailed Saturday morning, but the gates were open, allowing people to drive through the high desert wilderness and take unguided hikes, as usual.
“Our employees who would usually take fees have been furloughed, so we aren’t accepting fees,” said Ranger Dylan Moe. “There’s a small staff of park employees here to respond to emergencies if they arise, but that’s it.”
Yosemite National Park was also open, with the shuttles, tours, restaurants and lodging operating as normal for this time of year.
Some remote restrooms would be closed, and maintenance, such as trash removal, might not be as frequent at the restrooms that remained open in higher-traffic areas, according to an update on the park’s website.
Elsewhere, state governments were pitching in to keep parks open — and local businesses thriving — during the traditionally busy holiday travel season.
“The Grand Canyon will not close on our watch. Period,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said in a statement on the office of the governor’s website. “If Washington, D.C., won’t function, Arizona will.”
All of Utah’s national parks will also remain open, including Zion, which drew more than a hundred thousand visitors over Christmas week last year.
A sign said the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area outside Las Vegas was closed due to the partial government shutdown, but the gates were open and cars streamed through the entrance throughout Saturday. There was no one to take the usual $15 fee, so visitors entered without paying.
By midafternoon, hundreds of cars had made their way along the winding road and parked at different viewing areas to take in the scenery. The Red Rock visitors center was closed, however, with a gate blocking it off.
Hundreds of people hiked their way down through narrow canyons. A few posed on top of boulders for photos. A long line was forming at the restroom, and a van ferrying tourists from the Strip was bringing more visitors in.
Charlie and Beth Goldstein had come from Long Island, N.Y., to visit family and spend some time at the Calico stop — the first one on the 11-mile loop. Charlie Goldstein said he was well aware of the partial shutdown.
“We love coming here,” he said. “And this was our best chance to visit.”
Times staff writers David Montero in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nev., Irfan Khan in Joshua Tree and Jack Dolan, Joel Rubin and Alejandra Reyes-Velarde in Los Angeles contributed to this report.