Government careens toward shutdown


WASHINGTON (AP)

The government careened toward shutdown Friday night in a chaotic close to Donald Trump’s first year as president, as Democrats and Republicans preemptively traded blame while still struggling to find some accord before a deadline at the stroke of midnight.

The lawmakers and Trump’s White House mounted last-ditch negotiations to stave off what had come to appear as the inevitable, with the parties in stare-down mode over federal spending and proposals to protect some 700,000 younger immigrants from deportation.

After hours of negotiating, the Senate scheduled a late-night vote on a House-passed plan. It appeared likely to fail.

The election-year standoff marked a test of the president’s much vaunted deal-making skills — and of both parties’ political fortitude. Republicans, who control both Congress and the White House, faced the prospect of being blamed for the display of dysfunction — just the fourth shutdown in a quarter-century. It could also threaten to slow any GOP momentum, one month after passage of the party’s signature tax cut law.

Democrats, too, risked being labeled obstructionist. Republicans branded the confrontation a “Schumer shutdown” and argued that Democrats were harming fellow Americans to protect “illegal immigrants.”

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney wasn’t optimistic Friday evening about the chances of Democrats and Republicans reaching a deal on a spending bill before midnight. Still, he said there’s a “good chance” they find a solution by Monday.

Trump summoned Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer to the White House Friday afternoon in hopes of cutting a deal. But the two New Yorkers, who pride themselves on their negotiating abilities, emerged from the meeting at the White House without an agreement, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress continued to pass off responsibility.

“We made some progress, but we still have a good number of disagreements,” Schumer said upon returning to Capitol Hill. Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told CNN that “Not much has changed” over the course of the day, but he predicted a deal would be reached by Monday, when most government offices are to reopen after the weekend.

Democrats in the Senate served notice they would filibuster a four-week extension, the government-wide funding bill that cleared the House Thursday evening. They’re seeking an even shorter extension that they think will keep the pressure on the White House to cut a deal to protect “dreamer” immigrants — who were brought to the country as children and are now here illegally — before their legal protection runs out in March.

But a White House official said Trump would oppose a mini-short-term agreement to keep the government open through the weekend, suggesting lawmakers would be in their exact same position in a few days.

For his part, Trump described his discussion with Schumer as an “excellent preliminary meeting,” tweeting that lawmakers are “Making progress - four week extension would be best!”

Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said Trump told Schumer to work things out with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. McConnell did not attend the meeting because he was not invited, a Senate GOP aide said.

Trump has been an unreliable negotiator in the weeks leading up to the showdown. Earlier this week he tweeted opposition to the four-week plan, forcing the White House to later affirmed his support. He expressed openness extending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, only to reject a bipartisan proposal. His disparaging remarks about African and Haitian immigrants last week helped derail further negotiations.

Still, officials said the president has been working the phones trying to avert a shutdown. The president had been set to leave Friday afternoon to attend a fundraiser at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate marking the one-year anniversary of his inauguration, but delayed his travel until at least Saturday.

“I think the president’s been very clear: he’s not leaving until this is finished,” Mulvaney told reporters.

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