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Republicans and Democrats play blame game over shutdown


President Trump and congressional leaders are showing no signs of letting up over a funding stalemate as members of both parties blame the other on the first day of a partial government shutdown.

The ratcheting up of the finger-pointing raises questions about how quickly lawmakers may be able to get an agreement to end the shutdown, which started at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and is impacting roughly 25 percent of the federal government.

Senate leaders traded barbs on the chamber floor shortly after they convened on Saturday around noon, saying the other side was to blame for the funding lapse that started after Congress failed to reach a deal Friday night.

Meanwhile, a senior administration official on Saturday afternoon doubled down on Trump's request for $5 billion in funding for "physical barriers" along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"We're not going to negotiate over the phone as to what he would accept. That continues to be what this president is pushing for,” the official added when asked if the president would accept $1.6 billion instead.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took to the Senate floor to accuse Democrats of refusing a "reasonable request" to provide funding for Trump's border wall. The GOP leader said Democrats are facing pressure from their progressive base and he argued they were flip-flopping by rejecting border policies they had previously voted to advance.

"Democrats haven’t rejected the president’s request — and invited this partial government shutdown — because of some principled objection that they just discovered in the last few weeks," McConnell said. "They’ve brought this about because they’re under a lot of pressure — we all know this — from the far left of their party."

McConnell added that the responsibility for coming up with an agreement to reopen the government rested with Trump, whose signature they will need, and Senate Democrats, whose votes they will need to get a bill through the Senate.

But Trump, who warned earlier Saturday that the shutdown could be a "long stay," surrounded himself at a lunch at the White House largely by lawmakers who have encouraged him to dig in further on his request for $5 billion in border security.

Three members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, including Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and founding member Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), are among those dining with Trump in the White House residence.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Freedom Caucus ally Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) are also attending.

On the Senate side, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who is deep in the negotiations, as well as Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), are attending.

Graham, in particular, has urged Trump to stand by his demand, saying in a tweet on Friday for the president to "dig in."

"Democrats spend like drunken sailors on everything but border security-wall. More money needed for border security-wall to protect our country from drugs, crime, and terrorism. Hang tough Mr. President!" Graham added in a separate tweet on Saturday.

House Republicans and Trump are asking for $5 billion for the border, an amount that cannot pass in the Senate.

Senators are discussing $1.6 billion for border security, though Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) declined to answer questions as he arrived at the Capitol on Saturday afternoon, including if Democrats would accept that amount.

A Senate Democratic aide said earlier Saturday that negotiations were ongoing at a staff level. Vice President Pence is also expected to come to the Capitol to continue talks, after he met with Schumer and House leadership on Friday.

Shelby said Pence was at the Capitol to make Schumer an offer but that an agreement today was “probably not probable.”

Schumer blistered Trump during his floor speech, criticizing his "destructive two-week temper tantrum demanding the American taxpayer pony up for an expensive and ineffective border wall."

He added that McConnell and outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) "cannot duck responsibility" and "are essential to this process." Schumer added that after Trump reversed course on supporting the Senate's initial seven-week bill, Trump has to publicly endorse a final deal before it gets a vote in the Senate.

"We don't want to go through what we went through a few days ago. Both Leader McConnell and I have agreed that qualification for a specific reason. Repeatedly the president has privately agreed to a deal with congressional leaders only to reverse himself when criticized by the far-right," Schumer added.

And Democrats are reminding the public, at every turn, that the GOP controls the White House and both chambers of Congress. If a shutdown is anyone’s fault, they contend, it’s Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, added that the "president is holding the federal government hostage for $5 billion of American taxpayer dollars for his unnecessary, ineffective and expensive wall on the southern border."

"A wall, eventually, he repeatedly promised, gave his word to the American taxpayers that Mexico would pay for it," Leahy said.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, wondered why GOP leaders didn’t just kick the can into next year, when Democrats will control the House — if only for messaging reasons.

“Frankly, if I were them, I’d say, ‘OK, you Democrats, you try to get it done. We’ll give it to you, you pass something — but then you’re responsible,’ ” Hoyer said Friday.

“Now we can say, ‘Republicans control everything. Not us!’ ”

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