WASHINGTON • The new Democrat-controlled House of Representatives passed a package of Bills that would reopen the federal government without paying for US President Donald Trump's border wall, drawing a swift veto threat from the White House and leaving the partial shutdown no closer to getting resolved.
But two Senate Republicans who are up for re-election in 2020 broke with Mr Trump and party leaders on their shutdown strategy on Thursday, saying it was time to end the impasse even if Democrats won't give Mr Trump the more than US$5 billion (S$6.8 billion) in border funding he is demanding.
The comments from Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine - the only Senate Republicans running for re-election in states Mr Trump lost - pointed to cracks within the GOP that could grow as the shutdown reaches the two-week mark.
"I think we should pass a continuing resolution to get the government back open. The Senate has done it last Congress, we should do it again today," Mr Gardner said, as the 116th Congress got under way with pomp and ceremony on both sides of the Capitol.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, reiterated on Thursday that the Senate will only take up government spending legislation that Mr Trump supports.
Top congressional leaders were set to meet Mr Trump at the White House late yesterday, in a repeat of a meeting they had on Wednesday.
Mr McConnell's stance prompted angry attacks from new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats, who insisted they were trying to give Republicans a way out of the standoff by passing two pieces of legislation: one, a package of six spending Bills that were negotiated on a bipartisan basis in the Senate and would reopen nearly all the federal agencies closed since Dec 22, the second, a stopgap spending Bill up to Feb 8 covering only the Department of Homeland Security.
The House strategy could allow Senate Republicans to pass legislation that would reopen most of the government while setting aside the debate over the border wall. But, thus far, because of Mr Trump's opposition, party leaders have refused.
"What we're asking the Republicans in the Senate to do is to take 'yes' for an answer. We are sending them back exactly, word for word, what they have passed," Ms Pelosi said. "Why would they not do that? Is it because the President won't sign it?
Mr McConnell restated the stance he has adopted since the Senate unanimously passed a short-term spending Bill last month without additional wall funding - only to watch as Mr Trump turned against it the very next morning amid a conservative backlash.
"I've made it clear on several occasions, and let me say it again: The Senate will not take up any proposal that does not have a real chance of passing this Chamber and getting a presidential signature," he said.
As the impasse dragged on, Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Richard Shelby said for the first time that the stalemate could continue for "months and months".
A funding lapse of that length would have compounding consequences for the government's ability to provide promised services, and for the about 800,000 federal workers who are either furloughed at home or working without any guarantee of getting paid.
Nevertheless, Mr Trump showed no sign on Thursday that he was going to budge. A veto threat issued by the White House against the House Bills said it "cannot accept legislation that provides unnecessary funding for wasteful programmes while ignoring the nation's urgent border security needs".
The shutdown has lasted 14 days without any signs of compromise or earnest negotiations, with Democrats largely unifying and a number of Republicans flummoxed over Mr Trump's strategy.
Many of the federal workers affected will miss their first pay cheque from next week. Multiple national parks and museums have closed, and the impact is expected to become even more severe in the coming weeks.