Schumer, Trump, and McConnell tried to make a border-wall deal without Pelosi

Pelosi is not having it.
Pelosi is not having it.
Image: AP/J. Scott Spplewhite
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After the failure of two Senate bills that could have ended the record-breaking US shutdown today (Jan. 24), a group of Senators proposed a last-ditch plan: the Senate’s leaders alone would craft a compromise with president Donald Trump.

Perhaps Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and minority leader Chuck Schumer could meet to make a deal that would open the government for three weeks with the president’s approval, said South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham. “I just got off the phone with the president,” he said brightly on the Senate floor after the failed votes—and, he added, Trump was open to such a plan!

A deal could include increased protections for certain US residents the White House has threatened to deport (to make Democrats happy), as well as “money for a barrier” (to placate Trump), Graham said.

Republican senators including Ohio’s Rob Portman and Maine’s Susan Collins touted such a compromise. “No one likes a government shutdown,” Portman said, after voting against the Democrat-sponsored deal that would have reopened the government for two weeks with no strings attached. But help was on the way, he promised: “The pieces are being put back together by this group.”

There was just one thing missing: Nancy Pelosi, the powerful House speaker, whose approval is necessary to get it any plan though that chamber, where Democrats control 54% of the seats.

Pelosi has said Trump is holding US federal workers “hostage” for the wall he has promised on the US’s southern border, and negotiating for their paychecks now would just mean more hostage-taking in the future. “We cannot have the president, every time he has an objection, to say ‘I’ll shut down the government until you come to my way of thinking,'” she said this week.

Pelosi and Trump’s relationship has deteriorated in recent weeks to the point they they’re only communicating by public letters.

Perhaps that’s why the White House quickly confirmed its approval of the Pelosi-free chat idea. “Leader Mitch McConnell and senator Chuck Schumer are meeting now to see whether or not they can work out of the deadlock,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday afternoon. Any deal, she added “would only work if there is a large down payment on the wall.” Schumer was soon spotted leaving McConnell’s office, smiling. “We’re talking,” he told reporters.

If Schumer and McConnell ”come to a reasonable agreement, I would support it,” Trump told reporters at the White House less than an hour later.

The whole idea was soon revealed to be a short-lived mistake, however, when someone asked Pelosi what she thought of the idea of an Senator-led agreement:

Anything that includes a “big downpayment for a wall” isn’t a “reasonable agreement,” Pelosi said.

The shutdown, which has now dragged on for 34 days, was started after president Trump unexpectedly refused in late December to sign any bill without wall funding, leaving the Republican-controlled House and Senate scrambling in the last session of that Congress.  It’s hard to see how the shutdown will end, as the situation has evolved into an intensely politically-charged impasse, with Trump’s far-right supporters and newly-empowered Democrats both refusing to budge.

Figuring out a compromise that makes both sides happy is going to be tough, one Congressional aide told Quartz today. After all, Trump “needs to walk away with some sort of a win, and so does Pelosi.”

About 800,000 federal government workers are about to miss their second paycheck tomorrow because of the shutdown; US economic growth could fall to zero this quarter if it stretches on much longer; and a growing number of lawmakers and safety experts worry that national security is at risk. “Will it take a breakdown in food security, or airline security,” or an act of terrorism to force the Senate to move, asked Democrat Chris Coons from Delaware on the Senate floor this afternoon.

Americans hope they never have to find that out.