The partial government shutdown blew through the record of the longest ever in U.S. history over the weekend and is headed into uncharted territory. The impact is intensifying on both the government employees who missed a payday Friday — some of them forced to work anyway, some of them furloughed — and on other Americans who want to take an airline flight, visit a national park or eat FDA-inspected food.
With the political heat rising, this would be the moment during previous shutdowns when the White House and Congress would agree to some face-saving compromises to fund the government, at least for the short term.
This time, though, there are few signs that President Trump and newly empowered House Democrats are about to budge. Here are five likeliest scenarios to end the shutdown —and why none of them are likely to happen.
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#1 President Trump caves
Facing polls that show him getting most of the blame, the president agrees to the Democrats’ proposal to fund most government agencies and pass a short-term bill for the Department of Homeland Security to continue the battle over building a wall along the southern border, his signature campaign promise and current non-negotiable demand.
Why it won’t happen: The last time Trump agreed to this very deal, in December, he was savaged by conservative talk-show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. Since then, the president has promised his base that he isn’t giving an inch.
#2 Speaker Pelosi caves
With the shutdown hurting Americans and blocking the agenda Democrats had hoped to pursue in the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi agrees to a deal that includes some funding for the wall, perhaps splitting the difference between $1 (the number she jokingly agreed to) and $5.7 billion (Trump’s demand).
Why it won’t happen: Just as the Republican base views building the wall as a matter of principle, the Democratic base views not building the wall as a matter of principle. What’s more, this standoff is the first test of Pelosi’s leadership since Democrats regained control of the House. She wants to show her troops that she can be as tough as Trump.
#3 Senate Republicans bolt
The House already has passed the funding bill that the GOP-controlled Senate approved last month. Republican senators, especially those who are up for re-election next year, have grown increasingly anxious about the potential political costs for them back home from the extended shutdown. They could approve the measure and send it to the White House.
Why it won’t happen: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (who happens to be one of those GOP incumbents up in 2020) has made it clear that he’s not challenging the president. He says he won’t allow a bill to be brought up on the Senate floor that Trump won’t sign.
It’s also unlikely that Congress could override a Trump veto. Ironically, the Republican-controlled Senate conceivably could muster the two-thirds support needed. But in the Democratic-controlled House, where most Republicans represent districts dominated by GOP voters, those representatives aren’t likely to allow to join with Democrats to support an override.
#4 They go big
The White House and congressional Democrats agree on the sort of ambitious compromise on immigration that has eluded Washington for years. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican who is close to Trump, has suggested a trade-off that would provide money for Trump’s wall and codify protection for the so-called DREAMers, young undocumented people brought to this country when they were children who now face an uncertain future. This deal might also include thousands of other immigrants who came to the United States with temporary visas because of crises in their home countries.
Why it won’t happen: Trump has given no sign that he’s interested in doing this, and neither have congressional Democrats. What’s more, neither side, and especially congressional Democrats, trusts the other to live up to a deal. It’s similar to one that was being negotiated a year ago, only to have Trump publicly disavow it.
#5 Declare an emergency
The president declares a national state of emergency at the border and moves to divert funds from the Pentagon to begin building the wall, pre-empting Congress’ role in allocating money. Trump has publicly suggested this option, although he has been reluctant so far to move ahead. He and Congress would still need to take separate action to fund the government agencies now affected by the shutdown.
Why it won’t happen: It would surely spark court challenges, and wall construction would likely be blocked by the courts until the legal issues are considered. While the president says he “absolutely, 100 percent” has the authority to act, even some of his own advisers have told him that he doesn’t. He’s also being cautioned by some Republicans who warn he would be setting a precedent for a similar exercise of extraordinary presidential power by a future Democratic president.
That said, some analysts see Option #5 as the mostly likely way out of the current cul-de-sac.
When the president delivers his State of the Union address on Jan. 29, will the shutdown be over? In normal times, the answer would be yes. In today’s world, don’t hold your breath.
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