Week 3 of the government shutdown feels a lot like Week 2 and Week 1: There’s no end in sight, and the nation’s top political leaders continue to shout past each other, neither side blinking.
Behind-the-scenes talks got underway this week in the hopes of crafting an immigration compromise that would potentially have saved face for both sides. But even those talks seem to have fallen apart. So for now, President Donald Trump is still in the driver’s seat — and that means the shutdown that started Dec. 22 likely isn’t ending anytime soon.
“We’re stuck. I don’t see a way forward,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) vented to reporters at the Capitol on Thursday after senators cast their last vote for the week and rushed to the region’s airports to start their extended weekend. “I have never been more depressed about moving forward than I am right now," Graham said.
“Nothing’s changed,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) told VICE News on Thursday afternoon. “We’re waiting on them to tell us what’s going to happen.” The mood at the Capitol is somber, with members of both parties bracing for a long shutdown — the longest ever in the nation’s history if it goes past Friday.
“I think we’re going to be here for a little while,” Scott had told reporters after leaving a private lunch Trump held with Republican senators at the Capitol on Wednesday afternoon.
"I think we’re going to be here for a little while."
Some Republicans who were sick of sitting on the sidelines began their own side negotiation this week. Six Republican senators were hoping to get the White House on board with a plan that would include some of the money Trump is demanding for his wall, but that funding would have been coupled with a fix for the tens of thousands of children of immigrants who were protected under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program.
The Republican senators were also discussing other tweaks to the nation’s H2B visa program.
There’s been some fraying on the House side of the Capitol, though. On Wednesday, eight House Republicans broke ranks with Trump and voted to fund some of the shuttered federal programs that have nothing to do with the wall, like the Treasury Department and the IRS. These governmental functions have been incidental casualties of the shutdown, and a growing number of lawmakers say they don’t need to stay closed over a debate about the Department of Homeland Security’s budget.
“I think there is a crack in the dam in both the House and the Senate,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) told VICE News at the Capitol after those Republicans bucked their party leaders. “People are hearing from their constituents. They are going to airports. They understand what all these TSA workers are going through, and it’s pretty hard to avoid now.”
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), one of the eight Republicans who voted to reopen Treasury, says the president is being a little hypocritical. “The president signed a number of bills into law last year that had no money for the wall,” Upton told reporters just off the House floor. “And I believe that [the wall] ought to be included as a part of the Homeland bill and not part of the others, and that’s how I voted.”
Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) also voted to reopen parts of the government, and like Upton he supports the president’s wall. As a former federal prosecutor who was tasked with trying to disrupt organized crime at the southern border, Katko remains concerned about an ongoing crisis: the deadly Mexican cartels that bring in illegal drugs from the southern border and other ports of entry.
“It’s undeniable that people are constantly trying to probe our border and get into this country, and some of those people are bad people,” Katko told VICE News in the majestic Capitol Rotunda.
Even though Katko wants the wall, he’s also a moderate who’s frustrated with both sides for allowing this debate over border security to become so politicized.
“It’s needed, so this is all a battle of semantics that really in the end don’t mean much, and they should just come to the middle,” Katko continued.
And for now, the president isn’t giving an inch until he scores at least a symbolic victory.
“The notion that he’s going to walk away with nothing is not real,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told VICE News upon leaving the meeting with Trump at the Capitol.
When pressed, Rubio said Trump’s own demands didn’t even come up in the meeting, which is why many Republicans remain frustrated: They still don’t know what the president would sign.
“He didn’t discuss the possibilities of what he would agree to,” Rubio continued.
Still, Rubio says everyone knows that the president wants a wall of some sort. He then summed up Trump’s main message to those in the GOP who are wavering now that the shutdown is close to becoming the longest in history: “Stick together.”
While many in the GOP are increasingly frustrated with Trump, they’re unified in opposing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and are painting her as the cause of the problem, even though she just gained control a week ago.
“Speaker Pelosi, for whom I have great respect, hates President Trump more than she supports border security, and until she can flip those emotions, it’s going to be hard to make any progress,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told a large gaggle of reporters after leaving the meeting with the president Wednesday.
For Democrats, it’s troubling to see the GOP letting Trump keep large swaths of the federal government shuttered in order to get a wall that many experts say isn’t even necessary.
“This whole thing worries me,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told VICE News while walking through the basement of the Capitol. “They’re trapped in the president’s spiraling behavior, and they’re trying to reverse-engineer a strategy and a policy approach on how he feels in the morning.”
Cover image: U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham arrives at the office of Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell for a meeting January 10, 2019 at the Capitol in Washington, DC.. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)