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Shutdown update: some moderate Republican senators are starting to signal a break with Trump

They’re calling on him to open the government first and negotiate on border security afterward.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is among those calling for Trump to reopen the government and then negotiate border security.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

It’s now day 26 of the partial government shutdown, and some key players are finding new urgency to resolving a seemingly impossible divide over reopening the government.

A bipartisan group of the most moderate senators are now attempting to appeal directly to President Trump to reopen the government for three weeks while negotiations continue over funding for border security. The group so far, Politico reports, includes Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Rob Portman (R-OH), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Chris Coons (D-DE).

They are proposing a three-week funding bill that will reopen the government and keep spending at current levels. Graham, who often likes to brag that he has Trump’s ear, is trying to get more senators to sign on to this plan, with the goal of potentially sending a letter to the White House today.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has canceled her invitation for Trump to give his annual State of the Union speech in person, originally scheduled for January 29, citing security concerns, and suggested he submit a written version instead.

While the political fight rages on, the effects on workers are already very real. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers have now missed their first paycheck, and contractors, who are unlikely to get back pay, are struggling to afford necessities like baby formula and medication. An increasing number of government services have also been put on pause including certain food inspections, and TSA “sick outs” are causing logjams at airports.

Democrats have long said they want to reopen the government first and negotiate on border security second. As Vox’s Tara Golshan reported, Democrats are not opposed to physical barriers at the border, per se, but they are opposed to backing Trump’s campaign promise. At the same time, the president has rejected anything less than $5.7 billion for his border wall as a condition of reopening the government, even as the economic cost of the shutdown rapidly approaches that figure.

Everyone seems to be waiting to see if Trump will actually negotiate without holding federal workers hostage. So far, he seems disinclined to budge.

Many meetings, but little progress

With talks between Democratic leaders and Trump at a complete standstill, there have been meetings aimed at finding common ground among other parties — or at least ones intended to provide the impression of doing so.

As Vox’s Ella Nilsen reports, the White House tried to bypass Pelosi and invite a group of moderate Democrats for a shutdown negotiation meeting on Tuesday. No Democrats showed up, however, underscoring just how unified the party is against Trump. He held another meeting on Wednesday with Republican and Democratic members of the more centrist Problem Solvers Caucus, a gathering the White House characterized as “constructive.”

Pressure is also building in the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to bring up “clean” funding bills similar to the ones that passed unanimously in December before Trump changed his mind. As Politico’s Burgess Everett reports, the bipartisan group Sen. Graham is working with wants to wrangle 20 signatures from parties. The letter they hope to send the White House offers a commitment to take up Trump’s border security proposals in the relevant Senate committees, once the shutdown is over.

“I believe that a three-week small CR [continuing resolution] would produce results. We’re not going to get results with the government shutdown,” Graham told reporters on Tuesday. “There’s a feeling from Democrats that if they negotiate now, the government will be shut down for some other reason in the future.”

“I’ve never been more encouraged by the number of senators who believe that if we had three weeks or something like that, we could find a solution,” he added.

As CNN’s Manu Raju reports, the White House is trying to convince Senate Republicans not to sign on to this letter due to concerns that it would undercut a narrative Trump has built around party unity. During a Senate lunch last week, Trump bragged that the party was “totally unified” on its shutdown strategy.

The effects of the shutdown just keep getting worse

While the political fight over the shutdown shows no sign of resolution, its impact is becoming increasingly apparent. Already, national parks are getting trashed, Smithsonian museums have been shuttered and a subset of environmental inspections are now on hold. The shutdown has also caused delays on everything from farm aid to IPOs, and could affect food stamps if it goes on for much longer.

On top of its impact on government services, the shutdown is also expected to have debilitating effects on the US economy, as government workers who are hurt by it curb their spending. A new estimate from a White House official indicated that the shutdown could account for a 0.1 percentage point loss in GDP for every week it continues.

As part of moves to stymie the shutdown’s broader impact, the White House recently recalled tens of thousands of workers at the Federal Aviation Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, and the IRS who have been furloughed during the shutdown. These workers have been asked to report back to work without pay in order to conduct “high risk” food inspections, oversee safety reviews for airlines, and get the federal government ready for the upcoming tax filing season.

If the shutdown continues, its effects are only expected to get worse.