MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
There is a new glimmer of hope on Capitol Hill that maybe - maybe - lawmakers can avoid a government shutdown. Last week, President Trump seemed ready to embrace a shutdown no matter the consequences. Then, top House and Senate leaders started talking about a different solution. Now the White House and congressional Republicans are backing away from Trump's demand for $5 billion to build a wall along the border with Mexico. Well, NPR's Kelsey Snell joins us now from Capitol Hill. Hey there, Kelsey.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: So I understand Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell now is calling President Trump flexible. Do we know whether flexible might translate to close to a deal to avoid a shutdown?
SNELL: (Laughter) I'm not sure if close is maybe the right word, but it's - and it's really very early to tell. But they really do want to avoid a shutdown. Even if they only give themselves until a week or two after Christmas to work things out, they just don't want things to shut down this week. And McConnell was essentially guaranteeing it to reporters. And yeah, it would be a really big reversal. We saw several signs that the White House was wavering today. And our own Tamara Keith asked the president about the border wall, and his response was a lot softer than we heard last week.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Are you still willing to shut it down for $5 billion?
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Thank you, press.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: It's time to exit.
TRUMP: We need border security. Thank you very much.
SNELL: So did you hear that there? He said border security, not a wall.
KELLY: Yeah, not the wall.
SNELL: Yeah. That little distinction could mean everything in this negotiation.
KELLY: All right. So game out for me where this leaves Congress with the clock ticking to the Friday deadline. Start with where Republicans go from here.
SNELL: Yeah. They're essentially trying to work themselves out of a bind that Trump created for them. They don't want to pass some sort of agreement with Democrats without wall money, which, you know, they could actually probably do at any time, only to have the president attack them or shut it down anyway. But think about it. People are tired of hearing about a possible shutdown, and Congress is just as tired about being - of being blamed for one. So they really don't want this. Their game plan is to try to work out something so the president can walk away and say, OK, I got a little something out of this and Democrats can say that they won, too.
KELLY: Speaking of Democrats, are they also signaling that they are flexible and willing to work out a deal on whatever you want to call it, wall, border security, whatever?
SNELL: Well, no, not really, but that doesn't mean there isn't still room for them to accept something different from what they've been offering. So back at that meeting at the White House, Democrats offered two options and - but something else that's been out there has been a bipartisan bill that has $1.6 billion in border security - not wall money. Republicans paired that with another billion dollars in flexible money today. And that is what Schumer and Pelosi outright rejected. Here's how Pelosi described it to reporters after meeting with Schumer.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
NANCY PELOSI: We cannot accept the offer they made of a billion-dollar slush fund for the president to implement his very wrong immigration policies.
SNELL: Calling something a slush fund isn't really a good starting point. But if Republicans got rid of that and went back to the $1.6 billion, they might have somewhere.
KELLY: So a lot of negotiations still to come, but I'm wondering how all this will shake out with the divided Washington we have coming in January. Do you see this spending fight as a crack in the relationship between Trump and his own party - just quickly?
SNELL: It depends on how far the shutdown gets. If there is a shutdown, it could drive a serious wedge in the party, but we'll have to see.
KELLY: All right. That's NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell on the Hill. Thank you, Kelsey.
SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.