Long shot Senate effort to end shutdown stalemate comes to a quick end

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By Leigh Ann Caldwell and Frank Thorp V

WASHINGTON — A last-ditch effort by a handful of Senate Republicans to reopen the government abruptly ended just 24 hours after it began in yet another sign that the government shutdown is nowhere near ending. It’s rapid demise also showed there is little goodwill remaining between Democrats, Republicans and the president.

An exasperated Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who launched the effort Wednesday morning with fellow Republicans frustrated by an ongoing impasse, told reporters, “I’m done.”

“I don’t know who to talk to, and I don’t know what else to do,” Graham added.

The end of the effort happened as fast as it began. Graham organized a group of four other Republican senators, all of whom have expressed concern about the shutdown — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Thom Tillis of North Carolina — to come up with a proposal that would give President Donald Trump what he wants for border security while adding provisions that the Democrats want.

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Members involved in the discussions knew that the idea was a long shot but still they tried to fill a void in negotiations. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had taken a backseat, repeatedly saying that it is up to Democrats and Trump to reach an agreement.

“We have a role here as lawmakers, and you have a group of individuals that are coming together and seeing if we can make something happen,” Murkowski told reporters Thursday morning.

The group pitched their ideas to McConnell in the morning. They proposed re-opening the government for a short period of time to give time for broader discussions, according to one senator involved in the negotiations. The boarder discussion could encompass relief for Dreamers eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or assistance for 400,000 immigrants who from Haiti and Central American who are set to lose their Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, this year, senators said.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence was on Capitol Hill, meeting with individual members, including Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who also wants an immediate end to the shutdown. Gardner said he spoke to Pence about “ways to bring (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi back to the table.”

Pelosi didn’t outright dismiss the idea of adding DACA to the negotiations. She said Democrats are “absolutely” ready to discuss Dreamers, but memories of the last round of talks on border funding and a DACA deal have resurfaced.

“You saw what happened last time. Trump backed out,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

And Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, who was part of the bipartisan group negotiating the 2018 immigration deal, said the White House is a difficult negotiating partner.

“I spent six weeks doing that last winter. We got to a good result and the White House torpedoed it,” King said. “So the real question is ‘What’s the point?’”

Even Sen. Tillis noted that the president is the unknown factor in negotiations.

“We gotta know what the president wants,” he said.

Republicans were cautiously optimistic that the White House would be open to the idea. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner attended the gathering in Graham’s office on Wednesday and one Republican senator told NBC that he was optimistic about a broader compromise after speaking with the president and his chief of staff Mick Mulvaney this week.

“They supported it then, which I think is a decent indication.” Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said, referring to the president’s support of a $25 billion wall in exchange for legal status for DACA recipients.

But then the White House gave signals that it would not entertain the idea.

“If the Supreme Court rules against the President Obama decision, which he knew would not hold up, we will have a deal with the dreamers,” Trump said while visiting the southern border in Texas on Thursday.

The negotiations ended Thursday afternoon, one day after they began.

“It’s very difficult when we’re dealing with people who do not want to budge at all in their positions, and that’s the president and Speaker Pelosi,” Collins said. “They are each very dug in on their positions and that’s made this very difficult to resolve.”

And now Graham, who was opposed to Trump declaring a national emergency, released a statement saying that Trump should declare a national emergency.

“It is time for President Trump to use emergency powers to fund the construction of a border wall/barrier,” Graham wrote in a statement.

Garrett Haake contributed.

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