WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said Tuesday that it would summon tens of thousands of federal employees back to work without pay to get the government running amid a partial shutdown well into its third week, as the White House and increasingly agitated lawmakers on Capitol Hill cast about for a way to end the stalemate.
On a day of inertia and theatrics in Washington, the partisan disconnect fueling the deadlock was on full — sometimes absurd — display. House Democrats spurned an invitation by President Trump to a bipartisan lunch at the White House, drawing howls of outrage from Mr. Trump’s team, while Democrats dismissed the steak-and-potatoes meal as little more than a photo opportunity. A group of House Democratic freshmen marched across the Capitol — with reporters in tow — to publicly confront Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, with demands to end the impasse. But Mr. McConnell was not in his office, so they left a note.
In between the choreographed scenes of non-negotiation, Republicans and Democrats toiled privately to find a solution that Mr. Trump would accept. The talks were expected to continue Wednesday, after the president issued yet another invitation to a group of centrists from both parties, the Problem Solvers Caucus, who were scheduled to attend a meeting with him in the Situation Room.
Senior administration officials, in the latest indication that they do not expect the partial shutdown to end anytime soon, made contingency plans to call back workers without pay. The Federal Aviation Administration said it was bringing thousands of furloughed inspectors and other employees back to work, while the Internal Revenue Service released a plan to have 46,000 of its 80,000 employees on the job for tax-filing season, up from about 10,000.
The Interior Department is bringing back at least 40 federal employees tasked to work on a plan to sell oil and gas drilling leases off the entire United States coastline.
In Washington, the deadlock showed no sign of subsiding. In the House, some freshman Democrats who won in districts carried by Mr. Trump in 2016 showed some signed of concern. They met on Tuesday to talk about whether — and how hard — to push their leaders to negotiate with the White House.
“Maybe it’s an outlier view compared to some others in the Democratic Party, but I believe we have a responsibility to get in a room and negotiate,” said Representative Elissa Slotkin, Democrat of Michigan, who hosted the session in her office.
But the House Democrats’ absence from Mr. Trump’s lunch on Tuesday was the latest indication that their party is standing firm for now against his demand that any proposal to reopen the government must include $ 5.7 billion for a wall on the southwestern border. White House officials, who had issued the invitation in the hopes of showing fissures among Democrats, used the regrets-only response to deflect responsibility for the prolonged shutdown, arguing that Mr. Trump was the one trying to end the impasse. A slew of recent polls have found that the public largely blames Mr. Trump and Republicans for the continuing dysfunction.
“Unfortunately, no Democrats will attend,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement about the lunch. She added, “It’s time for the Democrats to come to the table and make a deal.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, have refused to negotiate over border security until the government reopens, but Mr. Trump has ruled out separating the two issues. While the Democratic-led House has passed several bills to end the shutdown, Mr. McConnell has said he will not advance the legislation knowing that the president will not sign it.
“In a situation like this, where the president, in my view, is in the right place, trying to get the right outcome, as all of us have expressed, with regard to border security, of course not,” Mr. McConnell said.
Ms. Slotkin would not say whether she agreed with Ms. Pelosi’s stance that no negotiation was possible until the government reopened, citing a confidentiality pledge she said members of the group had taken about their discussion. But she said she and her colleagues were walking around with copies of legislation co-written by Representative Will Hurd, Republican of Texas, and Representative Pete Aguilar, Democrat of California, that drew bipartisan support last year. The measure paired border security improvements with legal status for some undocumented immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, sometimes called “Dreamers.”
“There’s a lot of people who believe it’s important to work across the aisle, that we need a practical way forward, and they believe in figuring out practical solutions,” Ms. Slotkin said. “We know we’re not in charge, but we want to get caught trying to help.”
She said she had called Ms. Pelosi on Monday to relay complaints by her constituents over the weekend about the shutdown, and has also been talking quietly with Republicans — whom she would not name — about how to find a way out of the stalemate.
Yet Democratic leaders expressed confidence that their members would not break from their leaders’ strategy, notwithstanding Mr. Trump’s attempts to entice them.
“Is anybody surprised that the president is trying to get votes wherever he can get votes?” Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, told reporters on Tuesday. “We are totally united — totally.”
In a closed-door meeting of House Democratic leaders on Monday, Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Hoyer said they had no problem with the idea of rank-and-file Democrats meeting with Mr. Trump. Ms. Pelosi said such a session would give lawmakers a sense of “what we’ve been dealing with” in a series of tense meetings with the president in the Situation Room since the shutdown began. “They’ll want to make a citizen’s arrest,” she added at one point, according to an official in the room who spoke on condition of anonymity because the conversation was private.
In the Senate, bipartisan efforts to forge a consensus appeared to have stalled as both sides agreed little progress was possible while the government remained shuttered.
A group of Republican and Democratic senators met privately on Monday in the office of Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, to try to find a way out of the gridlock, but the talks yielded no breakthrough.
“There was nothing there with structure to it except ‘what do you think, how can we get people back?’” Mr. Manchin said. “I think we all understand that you have to have immigration reform with security. That has to be done simultaneously, and I don’t think that can be done while there’s a shutdown.”
The group included Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who tried last week to forge a compromise that would pair border security funding with legal status for certain groups of immigrants facing deportation. Democrats in the room said no progress could be made on such a deal until the government was reopened, two officials familiar with the talks said, and Republicans agreed.
“What I would hope is that the president would reconsider” and allow the government to reopen for a brief period while senators worked on a compromise, said Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, who attended the session.
But the president has repeatedly ruled out doing so, and privately told Democrats this month that such a move would make him look foolish.
As the gridlock continued, the Trump administration was searching for ways to lessen the pain of the partial shutdown for those affected. Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of Homeland Security, said she was working on legislation to ensure that the Coast Guard, the only branch of the military going without pay during the lapse in funding, would be compensated.
The acting director of the Office of Personnel Management has been working with payroll providers to ensure that some federal workers going without compensation would receive back pay within a few days of when the government reopens, according to a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity without authorization to discuss the plan.