WASHINGTON — Breaking: The White House and congressional leaders agreed to a burst of last-minute negotiations in an effort to avert a partial government shutdown at midnight.
Hours before a midnight deadline, White House officials and senators scrambled on Friday to cut a deal to avert a partial government shutdown, as President Trump, unwilling to drop his demands for funding for a border wall, sought to blame Democrats for a crisis that he had previously said he would proudly own.
In a burst of late-afternoon activity after a day of confusion and inertia in the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence rushed to the Capitol to meet with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, searching for a plan to break an impasse that Mr. Trump has shown little interest in defusing.
“I’m feeling better now than I did an hour ago because that meeting is occurring,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican, adding that he was “so happy” about the session, which also included Mick Mulvaney, Mr. Trump’s budget director and incoming chief of staff, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. “The fact that that’s happening represents progress.”
Still, the Senate floor was a picture of dysfunction and paralysis as leaders struggled for hours without success to win agreement to begin debating stopgap spending legislation passed by the House Thursday night that would keep the government running through Feb. 8 and provide $5.7 billion to begin construction of the border, Mr. Trump’s signature campaign promise.
The measure was doomed regardless, given that it would need bipartisan support to advance and Democrats are uniformly opposed. What was supposed to be a 15-minute vote to take up the bill dragged on for hours as Republican leaders toiled even to secure a majority. With about a dozen senators absent from the holiday-season session, two retiring Republicans who have been sharply critical of Mr. Trump were balking at the measure. Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, voted against it and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, delayed his vote, threatening to do so. The situation was a real-time demonstration that Mr. Trump’s cherished wall lacks the support of even a majority of the Senate — and that opposition is bipartisan.
Yet Mr. Trump remained adamant about his demand and resigned to the possibility of a shutdown, saying he hoped to keep funds flowing past midnight but that his adversaries must agree to fund his border wall.
“Now it’s up to the Democrats as to whether or not we have a shutdown tonight,” Mr. Trump said at the White House Friday morning, moments after meeting with Senate Republicans who have repeatedly informed him there were not enough votes to sustain his position. “I hope we don’t, but we are totally prepared for a very long shut down. This is our only chance that we will ever have, in our opinion.”
Vice President Mike Pence rushed to the Capitol to meet with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, searching for a plan to break an impasse that Mr. Trump has shown little interest in defusing.CreditErin Schaff for The New York Times
It was a striking reversal from his televised declaration during a combative meeting with congressional Democrats a week ago that he relished the prospect of shuttering the government to force them to accept a wall, and would not blame them for the outcome.
In a meeting in his office just off the Senate floor, Mr. Schumer flatly informed Mr. Pence, Mr. Mulvaney and Mr. Kushner, who had requested to meet with him, that any measure that included money for the wall could not pass the Senate, and urged them to consider agreeing to one that omitted it but included funding for other forms of border security, according to a spokesman.
As talks unfolded, Mr. Cornyn said some senators were staying at home and waiting to gauge the outcome before arranging to return to Washington four days before Christmas, wary of returning to the Capitol unless a deal could be reached to stave off disaster.
“We have some that aren’t coming back for various reasons, but in the end, it doesn’t really make any difference, because we can’t make a deal unless we have a bipartisan consensus, in which event those people may not need to come back,” Mr. Cornyn said, explaining the uniquely transactional work ethic of the Senate.
In the absence of a deal, Mr. Trump shelved plans to go to his winter home in Florida, seemingly bracing for a shutdown. He showed no sign of dropping his demands.
During a meeting with Republican senators on Friday morning, Mr. Trump refused to give them specifics about what kind of plan he could support, including how much money he would accept for fortifying the border, despite their repeated efforts to ascertain his conditions for a deal, according to a Senate official briefed on the session who insisted on anonymity to describe it. The president talked at length about the wall and repeatedly pressed the senators about eliminating the filibuster so they could fund it with 51 votes.
Republicans seemed resigned to the fact that the wall funding might have to have to fail once more in the Senate before it would be possible to persuade the president to consider an alternative — if doing so would ever be possible.
“In my view, this legislation would be quite uncontroversial — quite uncontroversial — in a more normal political moment, in a moment where both parties put the national interest above any personal spite for the president,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader. “I support the additional border security and disaster assistance that the House added to the bill, and I’m proud to vote for it.”
President Trump attempted to blame Democratic senators for a possible government shutdown. A stopgap bill that passed in the House and included money for a border wall is expected to fail in the Senate.Published OnCreditCreditTom Brenner for The New York Times
Privately, officials on Capitol Hill and at the White House conceded that the measure would be defeated, and they had no clear Plan B. In the absence of a strategy for averting a shutdown, Mr. Trump spent the day maneuvering to ensure that Democrats would shoulder the blame notwithstanding his public courting of the dysfunctional denouement.
He began the day warning on Twitter that a partial government shutdown “will last for a very long time.”
“If enough Dems don’t vote, it will be a Democrat Shutdown!” Mr. Trump wrote. “House Republicans were great yesterday!”
He was referring to a nearly party line vote in the House on Thursday night to add the wall funding to the stopgap spending bill despite almost certain defeat of the measure once it reached the Senate. House Republicans also added roughly $8 billion in disaster aid for farmers, a critical sweetener that helped advance a bill that they feared until the last moment might not have enough votes to pass.
Yet the only certainty to emerge was an intense round of political blame-shifting. House passage of the wall funding did shift the dynamics of the fight, putting Senate Democrats in the position of being the spoilers of a measure to keep the government running.
Democrats, who believe their leverage will only grow when they assume the majority in the House in January, did not appear to be cowed by the tactic.
“Abandon your shutdown strategy,” Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor, addressing his remarks to the president. “You’re not getting the wall today, next week, or on January 3 when Democrats take control of the House.”
The president also urged Mr. McConnell to pursue what is known as the “Nuclear Option” and abolish a rule that allows any senator to block final votes on legislation, often used by the minority party to thwart major bills. The so-called nuclear option was used by Senate Democrats to lower the threshold to 51 votes and end a Republican blockade of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees. Senate Republicans then used the same tactic to end filibusters of Supreme Court nominees.
“Mitch, use the Nuclear Option and get it done!” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Our Country is counting on you!”
Mr. McConnell has long said that there was no support for dismantling the 60-vote requirement on legislation, and he and a number of senior Republican senators released statements on Friday morning in advance of the meeting with Mr. Trump making it clear it would not happen.
“The leader has said for years that the votes are not there in the conference to use the nuclear option,” David Popp, his spokesman, said in a statement. “Just this morning, several senators put out statements confirming their opposition, and confirming that there is not a majority in the conference to go down that road.”
Even as Mr. Trump mocked Democratic opposition and objections to his vision of a wall at the border with Mexico (“It’s like the wheel, there is nothing better,” Mr. Trump wrote), he seemed to acknowledge that the wall funding proposal is not getting through the Senate.
“No matter what happens today in the Senate, Republican House Members should be very proud of themselves,” Mr. Trump wrote. “They flew back to Washington from all parts of the World in order to vote for Border Security and the Wall.”
“We will get it done, one way or the other!” the president wrote in another tweet, having delayed his winter vacation to stay through the midnight deadline.
With funding set to expire, the nine federal departments and several other agencies were beginning to ready themselves. Some agencies will have enough money in the pipeline to carry them into the new year, but thousands of government workers are expected to be furloughed or required to work through the holidays without pay.
“It’s actually part of what you do when you sign up for any public service position,” Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina and chairman of the hard-line Freedom Caucus, told reporters on Thursday. “It’s not lost on me in terms of the potential hardship.”
Several House lawmakers blamed Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer for the impending shutdown, arguing that they were unwilling to compromise on border security. But with Democrats set to reclaim the House majority in two weeks, there is little motivation for Ms. Pelosi to acquiesce to the president’s demands.
In the aftermath of Mr. Trump’s insistence that he would own a government shutdown, House Democratic aides had already begun crafting legislation that would reopen the government come Jan. 3 and the swearing in of new members.