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The ‘all-I-want-for-Christmas-is-$5-billion-for-the-wall’ shutdown

POLITICO logo POLITICO 12/24/2018 By Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan
A government that spends $3.8 trillion annually is being disrupted over 0.005 percent of its annual budget. © Mark Wilson/Getty Images A government that spends $3.8 trillion annually is being disrupted over 0.005 percent of its annual budget.

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

It's the "All-I-Want-For-Christmas-is-$5-billion-for-the-wall" shutdown of 2018. Well, actually $2.6 billion. OK, $2 billion. Or the "Please just give us something" shutdown.

The partial government closure that began at midnight Friday is in its second day, and there are no signs the impasse will end soon. Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney warned on Sunday the shutdown could drag on into January, when Democrat Nancy Pelosi is expected to take over as speaker of the House.

President Donald Trump has quietly come down from his original $5 billion demand for a border wall to just $2 billion, according to Republican lawmakers and aides.

Trump has also backed off his demand that Congress approve an actual border wall, instead suggesting a steel picket fence of sorts, the design of which Trump tweeted to widespread disdain.

“Yeah, I don’t think he settles for less than $2 billion for the wall,” said a source who attended a Saturday meeting with Trump in the Oval Office.

Democrats, though, remain at zero money for Trump's wall. Nil. Nothing. No money for a border wall or steel slats or anything remotely resembling the kind of "beautiful" barrier that Trump wants to build. Democrats are OK with a “fence” or more money for “border security,” but any obstacle that Trump can call a wall is unacceptable.

“Well, what Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have both told the president is, we are not going to build a wall, period,” Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

All of which means that a government that spends $3.8 trillion annually is being disrupted over 0.005 percent of its annual budget.

In fact, the 2018 Christmas shutdown is starting to look a lot like 2013 — when government funding lapsed for 16 days — or 1995-96, when a partisan showdown between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich lasted 21 days. That’s especially bad news for the 800,000 federal employees who won't get paid until the shutdown ends, half of whom may also be furloughed.

It’s not even clear who is going to do the negotiating to end the shutdown. No one wants to deal with Trump, who has very little credibility with party leaders on either side of the aisle. And no one is going to sign off on a deal unless Trump publicly declares for his support for any agreement first.

"Everyone has to hold hands on this," said an aide to one top Democrat. "We're not doing anything until the president says he will sign it."

An exasperated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says Trump needs to negotiate directly with Democrats. Instead, Trump met on Saturday with hard-line Republicans — the “Lou Dobbs Caucus,” as a GOP lawmaker dubbed them — who urged him not to back off at all. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) privately told a House Democrat that McConnell should be the one negotiating with Trump. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Pelosi have all headed back home for Christmas, and they're not negotiating at all.

Those who have spoken to Trump say he’s privately aware that his leverage vastly decreases in 2019, meaning he needs to have the border wall fight now.

Yet Democrats seem stronger with every passing day. While Republicans aren't going to get the $5 billion Trump wanted, conservatives are unwilling to accept the $1.6 billion for border security that Democrats offered. Trump himself rejected $1.3 billion that was on the brink of passage last week.

"Here's the problem, of course, is that as recently as two weeks ago, they had offered us $1.6 billion for that same thing, so they're moving in the wrong direction," Mulvaney said on "Fox News Sunday.”

Trump is coming off a rough stretch of his presidency.

House Democrats routed Republicans on Election Day, and subpoenas are expected to start flying early next year. Trump's obsession with special counsel Robert Mueller grows daily. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned over Trump's decision to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria, and he rebuked the president in an open letter rejecting "Trumpism" as a national security doctrine. Trump retaliated on Sunday by announcing he's forcing Mattis out by Jan. 1.

The stock market is slumping, and Trump's attacks on Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell have spooked Wall Street. And now the Christmas shutdown — the third shutdown of Trump's tenure as president — which threatens to drag on for weeks.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that Trump "spends ever more time in front of a television, often retreating to his residence out of concern that he is being watched too closely." The Nixonian overtones of that image aren't lost on Democrats.

He's not behaving like he's fit for office. He's behaving extremely erratically," said former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro on "Meet the Press." Castro is considering a run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

“I can tell you every day I question whether or not we can endure another two years," Durbin added. "I think we can; I think this Constitution is strong. The American people are strong. But I'm hoping that my Republican colleagues will step up and join us in a bipartisan effort to put this government back on track.”

For her part, Pelosi is already promising to act quickly when she takes over as speaker on Jan. 3.

"Until President Trump can publicly commit to a bipartisan resolution, there will be no agreement before January when the new House Democratic Majority will swiftly pass legislation to re-open government," Pelosi said Saturday in a letter to her colleagues.

Burgess Everett contributed to this report.

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