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Shutdown set to begin as lawmakers argue over funding for Trump's border wall


Congress failed to reach a deal to avert a partial government shutdown on Friday and doesn’t appear to have a clear path forward as lawmakers continue to squabble over funding for President Trump’s border wall.

Senate negotiators from both parties agreed to keep talking in search of an elusive spending deal as the House and Senate adjourned Friday night without an agreement to avoid at least a partial shutdown starting at midnight.

White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney, who is also serving as Trump's acting chief of staff, sent a memo to federal agencies instructing them to begin executing plans for a shutdown starting Saturday.

"Although we are hopeful that this lapse in appropriations will be of short duration, employees should report to work for their next regularly scheduled tour of duty to undertake orderly shutdown activities. We will issue another memorandum reopening government functions once the President has signed a bill providing for appropriations," he wrote.

Top White House officials descended on the Capitol on Friday to huddle with Republican leaders in an 11th-hour search for a breakthrough, but the modest progress wasn’t enough to keep roughly a quarter of the federal government running, resulting in the furlough of hundreds of thousands of federal employees just three days before Christmas.

Agencies including the Department of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Treasury, Homeland Security, Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, State, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development are all slated to be impacted with the expiring funding.

Trump attempted to reverse course on Friday and blame Democrats for the looming shutdown after the House passed a bill that included $5 billion for his border wall the previous night. The measure was considered dead on arrival in the Senate.

"The majority has acted, the majority sent it to the Senate. In the Senate it takes 60 votes – so it really comes down to one person: Schumer,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters, referring to the Senate Democratic leader.

“Does Schumer want to shut the government down or does he want to make sure we find a compromise? Just a couple of weeks ago he was fine with doing border security. And now he's got a problem with it?"

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, said Trump was the only one to blame for the legislative impasse after he said in a meeting last week with top Democrats that he'd “take the mantle” of a shutdown over his border wall.

The lapse in funding comes in the wake of two days of chaos on Capitol Hill after the president asserted he wouldn't support a bill that didn't include funding for his wall.

Senate Republicans expressed frustration and disbelief at that decision, noting they passed a stopgap measure that didn't include the funding because the White House had previously signaled Trump would sign such a bill.

But Trump, under fire from conservative lawmakers and pundits, reversed course Thursday after a meeting with top House Republicans at the White House.

Vice President Pence, Mulvaney and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner met with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in an attempt to find a path forward on Friday afternoon.

Pence and Mulvaney then huddled with McCarthy, Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) ceremonial office off the House floor.

Following the meeting, McCarthy announced that no votes were scheduled for Saturday, telling lawmakers they will be provided 24 hours' notice before a vote is called.

The House and the Senate both adjourned Friday night, without a deal to avert the shutdown.

McCarthy said he’s advising members to stay in town as they wait for the Senate to take action, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters as he left the Capitol on Friday night that "constructive talks are underway."

The Senate on Friday voted to take up the House-passed spending bill, but lawmakers said they were doing so only to make room for further negotiations and to allow talks to continue in good faith.

Senators emphasized that the chamber won't vote on another spending bill unless it's one that Democrats and the White House can agree on.

Scalise echoed McCarthy’s sentiments on Friday, arguing the fate of the government reopening lays in the hands of the upper chamber and the White House.

“The president's been open to negotiating. What exactly would those other alternatives be to the bill we passed? That's up to the folks that aren't in agreement with what we passed,” Scalise told The Hill. “I mean we laid out a plan for keeping the government running — if they've got a better plan they should go talk to the president and get an agreement.”

Senate Democrats have been clear they will not support legislation that includes the $5 billion for the wall. And while conservatives have been adamant in their calls to meet Trump’s demand, some have expressed openness to supporting a measure that provides $1.6 billion — a figure that is being weighed by members in the upper chamber.

While lawmakers appeared to be on track to recess for the remainder of the year after the Senate on Wednesday passed a stop-gap measure that would keep the government funded through Feb. 8, House conservatives amped up pressure on members of their party to reject any measure that doesn’t include the $5 billion.

In a series of special order speeches Wednesday evening, members of the House Freedom Caucus announced they would support the president in vetoing a clean continuing resolution, arguing Congress faces a narrow path in securing border wall funding come January when House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) likely regains the Speaker’s gavel.

House Republicans managed to pass an amended stop-gap measure easily that included $5.7 billion in border security and wall funding and $8.7 billion in emergency disaster aid in a 217-185 vote on Thursday night, despite speculation they did not have the votes.

But the House-passed version faced a nearly impossible path in the Senate. Republicans in the upper chamber also quickly rejected a call from Trump for McConnell to "go nuclear" and eliminate the legislative filibuster in order pass the amended measure.

Congress passed five appropriations bills in September, which covered about 75 percent of its annual spending. Those bills provided a combined $1 trillion in funding for the Pentagon and Department of Health, Labor, Human Services, Education, Veterans Affairs and the legislative branch, among others. The funded departments will not be affected by a shutdown.

The expiring stopgap measure covered the seven remaining bills, which add up to $325 billion in annual spending. Once the funding expires, the related agencies will have to cease operating except for staff and programs deemed "essential."

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