Senate Republicans, feeling the heat, push for negotiations

Senator Lindsey Graham has suggested temporarily reopening the government while continuing negotiations.
Senator Lindsey Graham has suggested temporarily reopening the government while continuing negotiations. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • Twenty-four days into the longest government shutdown in US history and with the White House and House Democrats no closer to a deal, pressure is ramping up on Senate Republicans to craft an exit plan that will get federal employees back to work and pull their party out of a deepening political quagmire.

In a sign that Republicans are increasingly concerned that the stand-off over President Donald Trump's long-promised border wall is hurting their party, Senator Lindsey Graham has suggested temporarily reopening the government while continuing negotiations.

If talks do not bear fruit, Mr Graham said, Mr Trump could consider following through on his threat to bypass Congress and build the wall along the US-Mexico border by declaring a national emergency.

"I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug," Mr Graham said on Fox News Sunday. "See if we can get a deal. If we can't at the end of three weeks, all bets are off. See if he can do it by himself through the emergency powers."

The manoeuvring by a key Trump ally highlights the difficult balancing act Senate Republicans will probably face over the next two years, trapped between a mercurial President and an emboldened new House Democratic majority.

Tensions have flared inside the West Wing as negotiations stalled.

Last Friday, Mr Trump complained and used expletives about acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney in front of congressional leaders, after the latter urged compromise on the administration's demand for US$5.7 billion (S$7.7 billion) in wall funding, said two Trump advisers.


Mr Trump was dismayed by Mr Mulvaney's willingness to compromise, and sharply criticised him for taking a different tone.

Mr Trump and the Democrats remained far apart on Sunday.

Tweeting from the White House as the capital was blanketed by snow for the first time this year, Mr Trump continued to point the finger at Democrats, who he said were "everywhere but Washington as people await their pay".

At the same time, Democrats ramped up calls for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take up House-passed legislation to fund the government, regardless of whether the President agrees.

Mr McConnell has taken a low public profile as the stalemate drags on, seemingly wary of being burnt once again by Mr Trump after the President did an abrupt about-face last month and opposed a temporary funding Bill that had cleared the Senate.

So far, three Republican senators - Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine, both running for re-election in states Mr Trump lost in 2016; and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska - have called for an immediate end to the shutdown even without the more than US$5 billion Mr Trump has demanded for the wall.

The impasse left about 800,000 federal workers without a pay cheque last Friday, when lawmakers were back in their states.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration said there was a significant increase in the number of airport checkpoint personnel not reporting for duty.

The agency closed its checkpoint in Terminal B of Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston on Sunday because of staffing issues associated with the shutdown.

Miami International Airport officials said they will reopen a terminal yesterday that was closed for parts of the weekend because of a staffing shortage caused by the shutdown.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2019, with the headline 'Senate Republicans, feeling the heat, push for negotiations'. Print Edition | Subscribe