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Congress, Trump down to the wire on shutdown

Washington is barreling toward a government shutdown at midnight Friday, with no apparent sign of a last-minute breakthrough and each party blaming the other for causing the crisis.

President Donald Trump met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the White House on Friday to try to broker an agreement. But the New York Democrat returned without one, saying he and Trump discussed “all the areas” on which the two sides disagree. And Congress went into a lull for much of the late afternoon and early evening Friday, as senators and aides alike waited around for any glimmers of a deal.

Senate Democrats scheduled a caucus-wide meeting for 8:30 p.m. The chamber will hold a procedural vote on the House-passed stopgap funding measure at 10 p.m., which currently does not have the 60 votes needed to advance.

“We had a long and detailed meeting,” Schumer said as he returned from the White House. “We discussed all of the major outstanding issues, we made some progress, but we still have a good number of disagreements. The discussions will continue.”

Republicans are still intent on making sure Democrats bear full blame if the government does shut down after midnight Friday. Senate Republicans emerged from a party lunch — in which senators chomped on barbecue from Rocklands, a local chain — waiting to see whether the Schumer-Trump meeting would bear fruit.

“I don’t know where Sen. McConnell is at. I know he’s a bit frustrated that he doesn’t know where the White House wants us to land,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a leader of the push for a bipartisan immigration deal.

House Republicans, satisfied they’ve done their job after passing a four-week spending extension Thursday night, had been preparing to leave town for the weekend, although lawmakers have been told to keep their Friday schedules flexible and stick around for potential late-night votes. Still, the government is set to shutter unless one side caves and agrees to something they’ve vowed not to.

“I think we let it soak in a little bit so that the Democrats are the ones that are shutting down the government and what their priorities are,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Friday. Those priorities, Cornyn said, are “clearly not the children’s health insurance program, clearly not the military. It’s … to get another short-term [continuing resolution], which hurts the military, and it’s all designed to build leverage for immigration.”

Still, Democrats are confident that voters will hold Republicans responsible since they control the White House and Congress. Republicans, backed by President Donald Trump’s bully pulpit, are accusing Democrats of siding with “illegal immigrants” over poor kids, since the stop-gap spending bill would extend a popular children’s health program for another six years.

For much of Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Schumer had not engaged in remotely substantive negotiations over how to keep federal operations running after midnight on Friday. And as Schumer was meeting with Trump, the White House quickly moved to assure congressional Republicans that the president merely wants to hear the New York Democrat out — not cut a deal, one person familiar with the discussions said.

“I wish for all of our sakes that the Democratic leader would figure out what he actually wants. I feel bad for his own members,” McConnell said Friday as the Senate came into session. “He’s painted them into a corner.”

Democrats appear unmoved. House Democrats held a private caucus meeting Friday afternoon that sounded like a pep rally to reporters outside. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) urged the group to remain unified as Congress teeters on the brink of a shutdown.

“Unity is the strongest weapon we have,” Durbin told the group, according to two sources in the room.

Durbin and the other three deputy leaders — Cornyn, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) — had been scheduled to resume their immigration negotiations Friday after Schumer returns from the White House, although that was put on hold indefinitely, aides said. Some of the members and staff met Friday morning, though Republicans involved say the negotiators are still far from an immigration deal.

Schumer, taking a suggestion from Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), wants McConnell to take up a funding measure that lasts mere days, to inject urgency into negotiations on a deal to address 700,000 young immigrants facing potential deportation, and other matters that Democrats say are pressing.

But McConnell has no intention to do so. That’s despite the Republican leader’s antipathy for shutdown politics — he has flatly declared in the past there would not be one — particularly in a year when his Senate majority could be on the line. His chamber does not plan to take up any other bill than the House legislation on Friday, and may vote on it repeatedly in an attempt to inflict political pain on vulnerable Democrats, according to senators and aides.

Republicans believe the Democrats’ demands for an even shorter stopgap measure makes no sense, and insist that the minority party needs to tell the GOP what exactly they want in order to keep the government open. Democrats say Republicans won’t reach out to them about a deal.

“The only path to keeping the government open is the bill in front of us,” said a senior GOP aide.

Republicans elsewhere in the Capitol are also preparing for a public relations battle against Democrats to paint them as the instigators of the first federal government shutdown since October 2013.

House leaders don’t support a “very short-term” stopgap measure either, which would but Congress a few more days to reach a deal, McCarthy said.

“We’ve passed our CR,” McCarthy said, referring to a continuing resolution, in an interview following an hour-long House GOP leadership meeting. “Sen. Schumer needs to decide if he wants a shutdown.”

Acknowledging the urgency of the impending shutdown, Trump’s weekend jaunt to Mar-a-Lago has been canceled, the White House said Friday afternoon.

Earlier Friday, Senate Democrats circulated a counter-proposal that would fund the government through Feb. 16, pass the DREAM Act, extend the expired Children’s Health Insurance Program, deliver $90 billion of disaster aid and increase defense and non-defense spending by more than $50 billion apiece, according to sources in both parties. Republicans scoffed at the proposal and do not view it seriously.

John Bresnahan contributed to this report.

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