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Moderate House Democrats want this shutdown to end — but they are sticking with Pelosi

There are no real cracks in Pelosi’s wall.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Holds Weekly Press Conference At The Capitol
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks during a weekly news conference.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Feeling paralyzed by a 33-day partial government shutdown, a group of moderate House Democrats are growing restless — but they still aren’t going to give in to President Trump.

“There is broad and growing concern about the impact of the shutdown and the human cost it’s imposing, so there’s a lot of frustration in that area — but not with our leadership,” said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY), the chair of the House Budget Committee.

Still, at least one Democrat is asking House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to give Trump something to get him to the negotiating table; Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA), a first-term Democrat, is penning a letter to Pelosi asking her to guarantee a vote on some kind of border security package for the Department of Homeland Security by the end of February.

Basically, Luria is trying to get Pelosi to agree that DHS officials will be given committee hearings to tell Congress what they need for border security, and secure a vote on the department’s funding request. That doesn’t mean it would get approved, but the hope is that the White House will see this as some sort of good-faith effort to negotiate and end the shutdown. A draft version of the letter was first reported by Politico.

But even if Luria is trying to signal an openness to the other side, she and other moderates are still aligned with Pelosi’s central position: open up the government first, and only then will Democrats agree to negotiate on border security with the president. Luria is advocating a sweetener for Trump, rather than playing hardball.

“Every Democrat who’s gone down to the White House, sent a letter, has said, ‘Open up the government and we’ll negotiate,’” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD). “I don’t know of any Democrat who has not said, ‘What we need to do first is open up the government.’”

“Once the president walks out of a room, it’s up to them [the White House] to initiate the talks,” Yarmuth added.

Pelosi’s spokesperson Drew Hammill told Vox the White House still hasn’t reached out to Pelosi for any further negotiations this week, even as the Senate plans to take up two bills aimed at reopening the government on Thursday — both of which are expected to fail.

Pelosi and Trump are in a stalemate. Moderates want a way out.

Moderates are from districts that lean more conservative, and they have a distinct interest in making sure they are trying to work with Republicans to fix things that are broken in Washington. And right now, the thing that is broken in Washington is Washington.

The most notable example of this was Trump inviting moderate Democrats in the House Problem Solvers Caucus to the White House to talk with him. But Trump has always been eager to exploit the optics of this to give the appearance that he’s peeling people away from Pelosi’s caucus — something the moderates refuted.

“We were there not to negotiate anything other than try to inspire a negotiation and with a strong message we’ve got to do so when the government is open,” said Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) last week. “Reopen government and get back to the table.”

Other moderate Democrats have made it clear they are willing to negotiate with Trump over some sort of physical barrier, an idea Vox’s Tara Golshan laid out in more detail.

“I have said multiple times that I support some element of a physical barrier as part of an overall package on border security, but it’s also got to include more funding for border agents; it’s got to include more technology,” Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) told reporters. “But I’ve always been consistent in saying if the experts tell us a physical barrier makes sense, I will support it.”

At least one moderate was willing to go further this week.

“Give Trump the money,” said Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) in an interview with a local Minnesota radio station. “I’d give him the whole thing … put strings on it so you make sure he puts the wall where it needs to be. Why are we fighting over this? We’re going to build that wall anyway, at some time.”

But even if everyone agrees that opening up the government is the starting point, many think Pelosi and Trump need to get together to talk — soon.

“I agree with Ms. Pelosi. Open up government, pay the employees, then we negotiate,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), who represents the border community of Laredo. “But now, I think pretty soon we’ve got to start looking at details. They’ve got to sit down and start negotiating, because right now it’s, ‘No, no.’”