Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent the members of that chamber home Saturday afternoon, telling them that they would not be back any earlier than Thursday afternoon.
“Senators will be notified when a vote is scheduled. And in the meantime, the discussions, and the negotiations, continue,” McConnell said, just hours after Trump held a White House lunch that didn’t include any Democrats with whom McConnell has repeatedly said Trump must negotiate.
Instead, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) took to the Senate floor, where he said the shutdown was caused by exactly one person: Trump. “President Trump has been on a destructive, two-week temper tantrum, demanding that the American taxpayer pony up for an expensive and ineffective border wall that the president promised Mexico would pay for,” Schumer said.
Trump has made zero overtures to the Mexican government since the start of his presidency to get that country to pay for the wall, according to a top official in Mexico City.
A senior Trump administration official, who spoke to reporters Saturday on condition of anonymity, claimed Trump is still looking for ways to get Mexico to pay.
“We’re going to put to the future questions about how and when Mexico will pay for it. Our administration continues to believe that they will,” the Trump official said. “But this debate is about ensuring that we have the appropriations that are needed to get the wall built. We’re not going to be in a situation where we’re going to wait on negotiations with Mexico to be able to move out in constructing the wall.”
McConnell could recall senators to the Capitol to vote on a possible deal before Thursday. Alternatively, the House could pass a short-term spending bill already approved by the Senate and send it to Trump for his signature.
In the absence of either of those scenarios, nine Cabinet agencies ― including the Department of Homeland Security and its Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents ― and a total of some half-million federal employees will remain in paycheck limbo through at least the Christmas holiday.
The Senate spending bill extension that passed by a unanimous voice vote on Wednesday continued last year’s appropriation level of $1.6 billion for border security enhancements, of which $1.3 billion was for repair and replacement of existing barrier fence.
Trump had been expected to sign that bill without much fuss ― until Thursday morning, after Trump watched his favorite Fox News hosts attack him for not building the border wall he had promised.
The House, which had planned to approve the Senate-passed spending bill and then adjourn for the year, instead added $5.7 billion in unspecified border security money for Trump’s wall ― a proposal that does not have even 50 votes in the Senate, let alone the 60 it would need to pass.
Spending authority for the affected departments and agencies expired at midnight Friday.
The shutdown will have little effect through the weekend and even on Monday, Christmas Eve, and Tuesday, Christmas Day, which are both federal holidays this year. But nonessential employees at the affected departments will be furloughed starting Wednesday, while employees considered essential ― including Trump’s Secret Service detail and many tens of thousands of workers in the Border Patrol, ICE and the Coast Guard ― will be required to work without pay until the shutdown ends.
Building a wall along the southern border and forcing Mexico to pay for it was Trump’s signature campaign promise, delivered for the first time in his Trump Tower speech announcing his candidacy. He repeated it hundreds of times between June 2015, and Nov. 8, 2016, when he won the presidency.
The “forcing Mexico to pay” part, though, was quietly dropped almost immediately upon taking office. In a phone call with Mexico’s president at the time, Trump told Enrique Peña Nieto that he understood that Mexico would not pay for the wall but asked him not to say that publicly so Trump would not lose standing with his base.
In recent months, Trump has been conflating the “great, great wall” made of reinforced concrete that he had promised during his campaign with a “bollard fence” design of steel posts that was adopted and started during President Barack Obama’s administration.
Of late, Trump has suggested describing his promised wall as “artistically designed steel slats” so that Democrats won’t object to it as vociferously.
Trump postponed the start of what was to have been a 16-day golfing vacation at his private resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on Friday and remained in Washington instead. It is unclear whether he will stay at the White House until he signs a new spending bill or fly down to Mar-a-Lago in the coming days regardless.