More than a dozen senators met Monday evening in a bipartisan effort to talk their way out of the government shutdown, though there’s no indication yet the new talks are moving toward a congressional breakthrough.
Two sources with direct knowledge of the bipartisan meeting of the gang of senators said the group had already run into significant hurdles, though senators will likely keep talking.
“It was rough going,” one source said, noting President Donald Trump has repeatedly rejected proposals that immediately reopen the government before an agreement to lock in a final border security deal can be reached — something that remains a central sticking point.
Democratic senators leaving the meeting said they made clear they cannot negotiate until the government is back open.
“You’ve got to reopen government first, you have to,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat. “Because if you reward bad behavior, you’re going to get more of it, and we’re not going to reward bad behavior from this president.”
The sources acknowledged it was just the first meeting and the senators are trying to get something done, but at the moment are largely stuck in the same place.
That said, “people are talking, and that’s better than the alternative,” one of the sources said.
It’s not clear whether anything the group comes up with can gain the approval of the President.
“In the end it’s going to depend on whether the President can live with it,” Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who added that any solution will have to include some wall funding.
Cornyn said that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was aware of the new talks.
“I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s blessed it,” Cornyn said. “But sometimes those sorts of things have a way of breaking things loose that are otherwise stuck.”
The new bipartisan group, which met in West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s Capitol office, comes after a Republican effort to find a solution fell apart last week after it was rejected by the White House. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, led those talks, and he was back in the room with the new group on Monday.
North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, who also attended the meeting, said that the group had not pinned down details yet, but he said he believed the solution lies in Congress.
“The fact that were talking, we recognize that the longer term strategy has to be an act of Congress, and we’re just trying, part of the group wants to come up with a solution,” he told reporters.
Kaine argued that the meeting was productive because Republicans needed to hear directly from Democrats that they would engage, but they also were firm about reopening the government first.
Democrats have previously agreed to bills with border security funding included, Kaine said, and suggested a similar deal could be reached again.
“We’re more reliable partners for you on border security than the President is,” the Virginia Democrat said they told Republicans, adding that he felt “slightly more confident based on the meeting today.”
Graham’s plan last week proposed allocating $5.7 billion for Trump’s border wall as well as several additions to appease Democrats. That plan would have included support for beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as well as immigrants from El Salvador and other countries impacted by the Temporary Protected Status program.