Amid Shutdown, White House Says Senate Democrats ‘Out of Control’

Administration officials, lawmakers signal quick resolution is unlikely

Protesters, mostly federal workers, hold up signs at the Capitol in October 2013 urging Congress to end a government shutdown. Congress and President Donald Trump averted another one this week by agreeing on another short-term continuing resolution. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Protesters, mostly federal workers, hold up signs at the Capitol in October 2013 urging Congress to end a government shutdown. Congress and President Donald Trump averted another one this week by agreeing on another short-term continuing resolution. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted January 20, 2018 at 3:52pm

White House officials on Saturday described Senate Democrats as “out of control” with their demands to end a government shutdown and signaled negotiations have stalled, raising questions whether the federal apparatus will be open when the workweek begins.

President Donald Trump is spending the anniversary of his swearing-in calling congressional GOP leaders and other lawmakers in pursuit of an agreement to reopen the government, aides say. But with both sides trading barbs and insults, a resolution on the shutdown’s first day appears unlikely.

Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow said a vote on a three-week continuing resolution will not come until Monday, implying Democrats are objecting to a Saturday vote.

Meanwhile, Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney and Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short did not hide their frustrations with Senate Democrats during a brief appearance at the White House briefing room podium Saturday.

[White House Swivels Back to GOP Leaders Amid Shutdown]

Mulvaney slammed Senate Democrats for adding the shoring up and protecting of some pension funds to their demands for any spending legislation that would turn on the federal lights.

“Things are out of control on the Senate side,” Mulvaney said. At one point, a clearly frustrated Short charged Senate Democrats with acting like “toddlers.”

Watch: McConnell, Durbin Make Their Case as Shutdown Looms

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Turning point

A day after Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer told Roll Call on his way to the Oval Office that he hoped to strike a deal with fellow New Yorker Trump, the White House turned its ire on him.

White House officials are questioning whether Schumer negotiated Friday in good faith with the president, Mulvaney said. He said Schumer initially promised Trump “all” the funding for his southern border wall as part of a shutdown-avoidance proposal, but later said the offer would cover only $1.6 billion of the estimated $18 billion project.

Federal programs almost always operate under yearly appropriations, even ones for national security; former acquisition officials and experts warn against lump-sum appropriations, arguing that the need to get funds each year improves program management.

But Mulvaney cast new doubt on the shutdown ending anytime soon when he told reporters there may come a point when Trump and White House officials conclude they can no longer trust Schumer enough to negotiate with him. That would be problematic since the administration and Senate GOP leaders need some Democratic support to vault a stopgap spending bill over a 60-vote threshold in the chamber.

Talks earlier Saturday helped result in a three-week stopgap spending measure from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“We look forward to that vote,” Short said Saturday, offering the administration’s formal endorsement of a bill that shaves a week off a four-week CR the House passed Thursday night.

Senate Democrats are holding out and have a number of demands, including for something concrete on the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which protects immigrants brought illegally to the country as children from deportation.

Trump did not spend the shutdown’s first day just calling lawmakers. He also took to Twitter to criticize the Democrats, saying they were “holding our Military hostage over their desire to have unchecked illegal immigration” and shuttering the government to give him an anniversary gift.

Short reiterated the administration’s stance that it will not restart negotiations on DACA or immigration until Senate Democrats clear the way for legislation that ends the government shutdown.

He charged Senate Democrats with not bending enough during separate immigration overhaul negotiations, revealing that White House officials and GOP members have agreed to expand the “DACA population” to meet a Democratic demand.

Mulvaney and Short continued referring to the situation as the “Schumer shutdown,” a dig at the Senate minority leader. They also ticked off a list of items in the House-passed CR that Democrats support, including a six-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Hitting back

While the White House lashed out at Democratic senators, members of the minority party returned fire during a rare Saturday session.

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a potential 2020 presidential candidate, said he is “looking forward to what’s coming.”

[House Democrats Maintain Hard Line on Shutdown Demands]

“They need to realize that they have the control,” Booker said, referring to Republicans that control the House, Senate and White House. “They have to come to a bipartisan deal.”

Democratic senators spent Saturday arguing that securing the correct contents for a stopgap deal is more important to them than quickly ending the shutdown.

“We’re trying to figure out exactly what we need in terms of an agreement so we can get out of a shutdown,” Senate Appropriations member Chris Coons of Delaware said. “I think the dates are less important than what’s the package and what’s the process by which we can get out.

“How do we get the contours that we have broad agreement on negotiated to a resolution on many issues,” he said, before ticking off a list of crucial departments and programs that are not receiving new funding during the shutdown: “Look, the Department of Defense isn’t funded. The Children’s Health Insurance Program isn’t reauthorized. Community health centers aren’t reauthorized and funded. Disaster relief isn’t funded.”

Maine independent Angus King, who caucuses with Senate Democrats, was more succinct: “I don’t think time is as critical as what’s in the discussion.”

Jennifer Shutt and Joe Williams contributed to this report.