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Congress to pursue divergent paths to reopening government, but stalemate no closer to resolution

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. CREDIT: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. CREDIT: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

WASHINGTON — Congress takes up legislation this week to reopen the federal government after a new offer from President Donald Trump, but divergent efforts in the House and Senate look destined to go nowhere, leaving the month-old stalemate no closer to resolution.

The Senate, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will take up a proposal announced by Trump on Saturday to reopen the government — trading temporary protections for young undocumented immigrants and other immigration provisions in exchange for $5.7 billion in border wall funding. Democrats have rejected the proposal, which would fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year and disaster relief efforts, so it appears unlikely to garner the 60 votes necessary to advance.

The House, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will pass a series of spending bills that would reopen portions of the government that have nothing to do with the wall. The legislation will include some security priorities supported by both parties, including a total of about $1 billion for immigration judges and ports of entry along the border. But the House legislation is dead on arrival in the Senate, where McConnell has made clear he will not advance any spending bills Trump won’t sign.

The partial government shutdown, already the longest in U.S. history, enters its 31st day on Monday.

The Trump administration has taken certain steps to blunt the impact of the shutdown, effects of which will nevertheless multiply over time, including at airports where Transportation Security Administration employees are increasingly calling out sick.

The TSA says that as of Sunday, 10 percent of employees are taking unscheduled absences, compared to 3.1 percent a year ago. “(M) any employees are reporting that they are not able to report to work due to financial limitations,” the agency said.

Without action by Congress and Trump, hundreds of thousands of federal employees are also set to miss their second paycheck Friday. On Sunday, the National Governors Association sent a letter to congressional leaders saying some states are beginning to run out of money to pay federal welfare benefits used by 1 million adults and 2.5 million children, with North Carolina expected to exhaust its funding in early February.

The Trump administration also provided money for states to administer food stamps through February, but has said it cannot guarantee that benefits would continue should the shutdown stretch into March. It is also not clear if the Internal Revenue Service, working with only 60 percent of its overall staff, is prepared for tax filing season to begin later this month.

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Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., released legislation Sunday to prohibit landlords from evicting federal workers or contractors hurt by the shutdown, although that bill was not expected to pass.

Trump’s proposal Saturday represented his first attempt since the shutdown began to offer a broader deal that would involve both border security and other parts of the immigration system. The president offered three years of deportation protections for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and had qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which the president terminated earlier in his tenure. (A federal court has delayed the end of the program.)

Democrats rejected the proposal from the start, saying that the government cannot be held hostage and must be reopened before negotiations on immigration policy can begin. They added they would not trade a temporary measure for a permanent wall and pointed out that Trump was now only offering to temporarily prolong a program he tried to kill. Trump also offered to back off plans to end a program, known as a temporary protected status, that has allowed hundreds of thousands of people to come to the United States after fleeing natural disasters and violent conflict back home.

Even as his proposal was rejected by Democrats, Trump also faced fire from some conservatives who derided his immigration overtures as “amnesty.” Similar objections last year torpedoed an even bigger deal that would have created a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants while also fully funding Trump’s border wall.

Trump’s offer, followed by its swift rejection by Democrats and the hard right, left the shutdown looking as intractable as ever — even while serving as evidence that Republicans are growing uneasy about allowing the shutdown to continue indefinitely. With polling showing Trump is being blamed more than Democrats for the shutdown, congressional Republicans want it to end, or at least want to shift the narrative, a consideration that led McConnell to encourage the offer Trump made Saturday and promise to bring it to a vote.

On Sunday, Trump lashed out at Pelosi for her refusal to entertain his offer. “She is so petrified of the ‘lefties’ in her party that she has lost control,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Pelosi urged Trump “reopen the government, let workers get their paychecks and then we can discuss how we can come together to protect the border.”

Still, Trump suggested he might be open to an even bigger deal, rejecting conservative criticism that he was offering “amnesty” for illegal immigrants.

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“It is a 3 year extension of DACA,” Trump said on Twitter. “Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else. Likewise there will be no big push to remove the 11,000,000 plus people who are here illegally-but be careful Nancy!”

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