Pressure Builds on Republican Senate to End Shutdown as Trump Prepares a Visit

Pressure Builds on Republican Senate to End Government Shutdown as Trump Prepares a Visit

A Park Service ranger looked out at the Washington Monument on Tuesday. The Parks Service is not being funded during the government shutdown.CreditCreditTom Brenner for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump, hours after making a direct televised appeal to the nation, is facing growing uneasiness within his party that threatens to undercut his use of a prolonged government shutdown to pressure Democrats in Congress to pay for his long-promised border wall.

As the cracks in Republican unity spread, Mr. Trump was to visit Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a lunchtime meeting with Senate Republicans designed to shore up support for his position. It could also expose still more unease among Republican moderates, and even among some conservatives restive about the mounting costs of a partial shutdown in Day 19.

“We can walk and chew gum at the same time here,” Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, told reporters Tuesday, indicating that she was in favor of the solution that Democrats have proposed: passing a stopgap spending measure for border security while the debate continues, and a longer-term package to fund the rest of the government through September.

She followed up on Wednesday, saying she had warned Mr. McConnell last month of her misgivings about keeping the government shuttered but had wanted to give bipartisan negotiations to resolve the impasse time to progress.

“There is a greater sense of urgency about where we are, and so you heard me express my concerns” publicly, Ms. Murkowski said. “I’m going to share my concerns with the president and the conference” Wednesday afternoon, she said. “I think they know where I’m coming from.”

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security, said Tuesday that she could potentially support that approach, as well.

“I mean, I think I could live with that,” Ms. Capito said. She said she expected pressure from federal employees and voters in her state would only mount the longer the impasse drags on. “I’ve expressed more than a few times the frustrations with a government shutdown and how useless it is, so that pressure’s going to build,” she said.


As the government shutdown grinds on, President Trump laid out his case for the border wall. Top Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were not convinced.Published OnCreditCreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

Two other Republicans up for re-election in Democratic states in 2020, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine, have already called for votes to end the shutdown without resolving Mr. Trump’s demand for $ 5.7 billion for a physical border barrier. And despite repeated lobbying by Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials, a handful of moderate Republicans in the House already voted with Democrats to reopen the government and will likely vote Wednesday afternoon for a measure to reopen the Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service and other financial agencies.

But misgivings are now appearing where they would not seem obvious. Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican who has announced his retirement next year, lamented that government shutdowns “never work” and turn federal workers into “pawns.” Though they had not reached a point of direct intervention yet, he said, “we’re getting pretty close.”

It remained to be seen whether those cracks would crumble the president’s support, particularly after Mr. Trump used his first prime-time Oval Office address on Tuesday to try to build public support for his position by portraying the conditions on the border as a crisis. Democrats, he asserted, were hypocritically blocking border security and putting the country at risk. Both sides were expected to sit down again later Wednesday afternoon at the White House to pick up what have been basically fruitless negotiations so far.

During remarks at an unrelated bill signing ceremony earlier in the day, Mr. Trump said he believed Republicans and Democrats were “working together.” But he said he would continue to consider declaring a national emergency at the border — a deeply divisive option even within his own party that could allow him to use money allocated for the military to build a border barrier.

“I think we might work a deal, and if we don’t we might go that route,” he said, adding that he had an “absolute right” to declare such an emergency.

Democrats, who are confident Mr. Trump is taking the brunt of the blame for the impasse, showed little evidence of capitulation.

The House vote on an individual spending bill is the first of several this week that are intended to pick off uneasy Republicans by reopening closed departments one at a time. And in the Senate, Democrats had managed to grind unrelated foreign policy legislation to a halt in an effort to ramp up pressure on Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, to relent on his insistence that he will not put any bill to reopen the government up for a vote there without Mr. Trump’s support.

Echoing their televised response to Mr. Trump Tuesday night, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, tried to shift focus away from border security to the federal workers days away from missing their first paycheck. The government, they argued, needs to be fully funded before any discussion of a permanent solution to border security resumes.

“I think that we can keep the government open and we can work on how we are going to enhance border security,” Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, said.CreditErin Schaff for The New York Times

“It’s a dark time,” Ms. Pelosi said, flanked by furloughed federal employees. “He has chosen a wall over workers.”

Other Democrats offered other warnings to the White House.

Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said he had warned Patrick Shanahan, the acting defense secretary, in a private meeting that a national emergency declaration by Mr. Trump would constitute a “major breach” of relations between the Pentagon and Congress.

“In my meeting with Acting Secretary Shanahan, I cautioned him that if President Trump directs D.O.D. to circumvent Congress in such a legally dubious way on such a major issue, Congress will have to re-evaluate its relationship with the department and judge whether each instance of broad flexibility granted to the department is worth the risk of abuse by President Trump,” he said in a statement.

So far, Mr. McConnell and Senate Republicans have shielded Mr. Trump from having to veto legislations to reopen the government. And even amid misgivings from some in the party, there were signs elsewhere support was intact among key senators.

“I think the ultimate goal is to find some consensus, but I don’t think the president is being unreasonable to ask what he is asking for,” said Senator Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa who faces her own re-election fight next year.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said he similarly respected Mr. Trump’s position.

“We’re not going to take away his leverage to fight for something that everybody said they can afford but won’t pay for,” he said.

But if discomfort within the conference spreads, and there is fresh evidence the shutdown’s costs could imperil the party’s political chances, Mr. McConnell could come under increased pressure to enter the fray and nudge the president toward a faster resolution.

Still, on Wednesday, Mr. McConnell continued publicly to insist that the dispute was for Democrats and the president to solve. He has largely absented himself from negotiations, a position that appeared to be validated on Tuesday by a Politico and Morning Consult poll that found only 5 percent of respondents blamed congressional Republicans for the impasse, compared to 47 percent who blamed Mr. Trump and 33 percent who blamed congressional Democrats.

“I cannot urge my Democratic colleagues more strongly to get past this purely partisan spite, rediscover their own past positions on border security, and negotiate a fair solution with our president to secure our nation and reopen all of the federal government,” Mr. McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor.

Emily Cochrane and Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.

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