Government shutdown: Congress didn’t even pretend to try to reopen the government

The government will almost certainly remain partially shut down going into the New Year, and Congress seems almost indifferent.

The House and Senate were in session only for a few minutes this week, as lawmakers seemed to tacitly acknowledge there’d be no deal between Republican and Democratic leaders and the president before January 3, when Democrats will take control of the House.

“We have not been able to reach agreement, with regards to the leadership on both sides,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) told reporters in the Capitol Thursday.

Roughly 25 percent of the federal government shut down on December 21, including agencies like the departments of Justice, Interior, and, most contentiously, Homeland Security, which controls construction on the southern border. The impasse is over President Trump’s call for $5 billion in funding for a wall at the southern border, which Democrats are refusing.

Historically, a shutdown represents a total breakdown of the government’s most basic function. This is the 21st government shutdown in US history — and the third this year. When it happens, Congress is usually in a flurry to reopen the federal government’s doors. But not this time.

There were no false pretenses in the Capitol over the holidays — not even feigned attempts to show the American people that their elected officials were working around the clock to reopen the government. The hallways were empty, save holiday season tourists, congressional staff, and reporters. The four leaders — House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — were not in the building, or even in town.

Trump, still unwilling to compromise, spent the week actively spinning up baseless assertions about border security on Twitter, even threatening to close down the entirety of the southern border. The Senate is expected to reconvene January 2, the night before Democrats take control of the House. There’s little hope — or movement — for a deal to be reached by then.

This isn’t about the wall — and no one is pretending it is

Trump has refused to sign any version of a funding bill that contains less than $5 billion for a border wall, and Democrats have refused to vote for any spending bill that funds the wall. Meanwhile, hardline conservatives, who have had Trump’s ear, are pushing the president further from compromise.

The last time there were in-person talks was last Saturday, when Vice President Mike Pence briefly met with Schumer to offer $1.6 billion in wall funding — which both Democrats and hardline conservatives refused.

For the shutdown to end, Republican leaders say Trump has to negotiate with Democrats. But he seems uninterested; he’s spent the week tweeting angrily about Democrats.

But this isn’t about the wall. This is about politics. Funding the border wall is as much a personal victory for Trump as blocking funding for the wall is for Democrats. So much so that in September — months before the actual shutdown — Trump said he saw a government shutdown over the border wall as a “great political issue” and the “greatest thing you can do.”

Trump and his allies acknowledge this. The president tweeted that Republicans are positioning themselves to own the “issue” of border security for the 2020 presidential election cycle.

The result is a shutdown fight that isn’t much of a fight at all. It’s two parties grandstanding, as a quarter of the federal government remains shuttered.

And by the looks of the empty hallways in the Capitol, no one is pretending otherwise.

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