WASHINGTON • New negotiations between the Senate's top Republicans and Democrats and the White House signalled the potential for a deal to end the partial government shutdown even as US President Donald Trump continued to insist on money for a border wall that Democrats reject.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who until now has publicly sat on the sidelines during the 35-day government shutdown, opened negotiations with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday after the Chamber blocked two rival spending Bills to reopen the government.
"We're talking, we're talking," said Mr Schumer after emerging from Mr McConnell's office.
Still, there's no clear path to end the shutdown as the White House and Democrats are still at odds over Mr Trump's demands to fund a wall on the US-Mexico border. Mr Trump has threatened to veto legislation that doesn't include wall funding.
A bipartisan group of senators proposed a three-week spending plan designed to buy time for congressional negotiations over border-security expenditure.
But White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Thursday it would have to include a "large down payment on the wall".
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly rejected that proposal. And a Schumer spokesman, Mr Justin Goodman, said the minority leader "and Senate Democrats have made clear to Leader McConnell and Republicans that they will not support funding for the wall, pro-rated or otherwise".
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said he hoped a deal could be reached after he spoke with the President. He said a temporary measure would have to contain additional provisions to satisfy both sides: funding for a "wall/ barrier" to please Mr Trump and disaster aid to please Democrats.
TRUMP'S 'SECRET WEAPON'?
I have other alternatives if I have to, and I'll use other alternatives if I have to.
US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP, who told reporters what he would do if a stopgap spending Bill passed without wall money.
Mr Trump told reporters at the White House that if a stopgap spending Bill passed without wall money, "I have other alternatives if I have to, and I'll use other alternatives if I have to".
Mr Trump didn't elaborate, but he may have been referring to declaring an emergency that would attempt to circumvent Congress by tapping unspent appropriations to pay for the wall.
House Democrats planned to unveil a proposal yesterday for securing the border without erecting new barriers. Homeland Security Committee chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi said he expects it to call for more than US$5.7 billion (S$7.7 billion) in spending on technology, personnel and other aspects of security.
The talks were triggered after the Senate rejected two proposals - one by Mr Trump and one by Democrats - intended to reopen the government. They were the first votes the Senate has taken on funding the government since the Dec 22 start of the shutdown, now the longest in modern US history.
Mr Schumer said the pain inflicted by the shutdown is "getting deeper and deeper every day", with 800,000 federal employees set to miss a second pay cheque yesterday.