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Partial Government Shutdown Continues With No Solution In Sight

Dec 31, 2018
Originally published on January 1, 2019 2:21 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

More than 800,000 federal employees are spending the last hours of 2018 wondering when they will get another paycheck.

Roughly a quarter of the government has shut down over funding for President Trump's wall on the border with Mexico. And it seems like negotiations are exactly where they were 10 days ago when the shutdown began. Democrats say they won't approve money for the wall. And President Trump won't reopen the government without it, as South Carolina's Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said yesterday on CNN.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LINDSEY GRAHAM: President Trump is not going to walk away from this fight without border security funding - money for the wall, for lack of a better way of saying it.

CORNISH: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell has been following all of this. Welcome to the studio.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi.

CORNISH: So negotiations between Democrats and Republicans have been stuck basically for weeks.

SNELL: Yes.

CORNISH: Is there any reason to believe that things would change when Democrats take control of the House on Thursday?

SNELL: Well, Democrats said today that they have a bill that they want to vote on as one of the very first thing they do once they do take control on Thursday. It would have full-year funding for six areas that are not currently funded. So it would bring them all the way through September. But it leaves the Department of Homeland Security out of that package and only funds that until February 8.

The idea is that would give them more time to kind of negotiate an agreement, but as we've been talking about, they've been stuck. And the reason it's the Department of Homeland Security is that's where the wall funding would be. So Democrats say they want to work on border security, give it another shot.

But Republicans would have to support this idea, and Republicans keep saying they won't vote on any bills that President Trump won't sign. And he hasn't said anything so far.

CORNISH: Right. Though, some of this funding, they are familiar with, right?

SNELL: Right.

CORNISH: I mean, are Republicans showing any sign that they would change their minds and support these proposals?

SNELL: So far, not really. Again, Senator McConnell says he wants to see what the president is willing to support. But the president sort of indicated that he would support a bill that passed unanimously in the Senate before the shutdown even happened. That would have kept the government open.

It would have been short-term, but it would have prevented the shutdown. But then, by the time the House got the bill, the president had changed his mind. So there's just not a lot of trust happening right now.

CORNISH: What does this mean if you are a federal employee right now? Are you working without pay? Are you not working at all? What's going on?

SNELL: About half of them are working without pay, and the other half of them are just not working. And you know what? They're just going to keep waiting. And it's happening at a time when bills - you know, rent and things - the 1 of the month, it's coming up right now. And this is when workers are really going to have to grapple with it.

And the American Federation of Government Employees announced earlier today that they're suing the federal government. They say it's illegal to make people do this, to work without pay like that.

CORNISH: Should federal workers be worried that if this shutdown happens again in the fall, if there's another kind of shutdown fight, that they could be stuck once again?

SNELL: Yeah, they absolutely have a reason to worry about that. Democrats will be taking over in the House, and they will continue to fight with the president. This is a political issue where both sides think that they are in the right. Nancy Pelosi refers to the president's policies on immigration as immoral. It's so hard to see how they move off of this.

Even if they get an agreement on border security, the reality is the president wants a lot of money for the wall, and it probably doesn't stop at the 5 billion - 5.7 billion that they're talking about right now. So there is a really real risk that, you know, if they don't see political consequences from this shutdown - so if they see that workers end up getting paid back, the American public doesn't get that mad - that there might be another opportunity for President Trump to say, hey, let's keep doing this shutdown thing. It works for me.

CORNISH: In the meantime, who should we be looking for in terms of negotiation? Is this all about Trump's word? I mean, at one point Mike Pence was involved - right? - in December, and that fell apart.

SNELL: Yeah, it really does come down to what the president will sign. He has the pen here, right? He could veto something. They could try to override it. But at the end of the day, if the president won't sign it, it's hard to make it law.

CORNISH: That's NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell. Thanks so much.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.