Government Grinding To A Halt As Border Wall Impasse Triggers Shutdown

President Donald Trump has refused to sign any legislation that doesn't include funding for the wall.

WASHINGTON ― White House officials reached out to federal agencies late Friday night with instructions to prepare for an orderly shutdown. Nine departments and several agencies with hundreds of thousands of workers began grinding to a halt following a legislative impasse after President Donald Trump threatened to close down part of the government if he didn’t get funds for his border wall.

The shutdown was assured when both the House and Senate adjourned Friday without reaching any compromise. Government funding for the departments and agencies lapsed at midnight. 

“We are hopeful that this lapse in appropriations will be of short duration,” White House budget chief and incoming chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said in a memo to government executives. Employees should report to work when scheduled to “undertake orderly shutdown activities,” he added, The Associated Press reported.

Legislators scrambled throughout the day Friday to work out an arrangement to avoid a shutdown.

There was chatter around Capitol Hill that Vice President Mike Pence was close to brokering a last-minute deal with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), but nothing materialized. 

House members could return from recess at noon Saturday. But the House doesn’t intend to vote on anything else until there is action in the Senate. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told members he didn’t expect any House votes on Saturday. He also said he’d give lawmakers “ample” warning before there was a vote.

“We’re totally prepared for a very long shutdown,” Trump threatened Friday, blaming the lapse in appropriations on the unwillingness of Democrats to pass $5.7 billion in funding for his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. “This is our only chance that we’ll ever have ... to get great border security.” 

Shortly before the House adjourned at 7 p.m., Trump tweeted that he was still awaiting a spending decision and that he had canceled his planned holiday departure to Mar-a-Lago.

Trump has refused to sign any spending bill that doesn’t include funding for his wall. But such legislation would be doomed in the Senate, where Republicans wouldn’t be able to secure the required 60 votes ― or potentially even 50 votes.

The Senate spent hours Friday holding a vote open, hoping that more GOP senators would come back to D.C. and agree to consider a bill passed by the House that contained money for a border wall. Eventually, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) switched his vote and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) voted yes to tie the vote at 47-47. Pence then broke the tie, allowing the Senate to proceed to the House-passed bill.

But Corker and Flake said they supported the motion with the understanding that the next thing the Senate votes on would not be the House legislation with wall money. “There is no path forward for the House bill,” Flake flatly declared.

Instead, the Senate intends to continue negotiating and not hold a vote on anything else until there is an agreement between Republicans, Democrats, the House, the Senate and the White House.

McCarthy said the House wouldn’t be back until the Senate had acted in some way, meaning Republicans don’t plan on folding and passing the clean continuing resolution that passed the Senate unanimously earlier this week.

Republicans are now holding out for something ― even if it’s a face-saving deal.

Even if lawmakers do strike a compromise ― such as giving Trump the original $1.6 billion for border security (but not a wall), which Democrats had offered weeks ago ― it’s unlikely House conservatives would go for it. That means Trump may have to sign a bill without the support of a majority of the House GOP conference.

It’s also unclear at this point if House Democrats would support such a compromise ― an even more pressing question since they might be expected to supply the majority of the votes to pass a deal.

At this point, there doesn’t appear to be any easy agreement in the immediate offing. The weekend is starting and federal workers have Monday and Tuesday off for Christmas holidays, but a shutdown could extend past Tuesday.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has so far refused a vote on the clean continuing resolution, but he could likely get that bill to the president’s desk if he allowed one.

That bill, which would continue current spending on the remaining unfunded agencies through Feb. 8, does not include wall money, and Trump has said he won’t sign it. But as the political and practical effects of a shutdown become real ― furloughed workers, missed paychecks for government employees and contractors ― it’s still possible for Trump to punt again on this fight.

It’s also possible this shutdown could last indefinitely.

Trump hasn’t shown much willingness to cave since he indicated to House leaders that he wouldn’t sign a bill without border wall funding, and he’s been emboldened by a successful House vote to add $5.7 billion in funding for the wall.

The shutdown will affect about 25 percent of government agencies, including Homeland Security, Justice, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture and State. It will stop the pay of around 800,000 government employees and contractors.

Most of the government has already secured funding through the year, with the Pentagon, Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services all getting their funding through an earlier appropriations bill this year. Their operations — along with the legislative branch’s — won’t be impacted. Others, such as the federal courts, have secured temporary funding to keep them open for several weeks in the event of a shutdown. 

But for the federal workers affected by this shutdown, this could be a painful lapse in appropriations. Those workers won’t receive a paycheck until there’s a deal.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.