Well, why not? It’s not as if they’re doing anything by sticking around. Congress will depart Washington for the weekend after wrapping up some legislative business, a signal that both sides of the shutdown are as far apart as they seem:
Lawmakers will depart for the weekend Friday after a final round of negotiations to end the 21-day budget stalemate failed, guaranteeing that the partial government shutdown will become the longest in history. …
“The problem is, there’s no pressure yet. Nobody’s missed a paycheck until Friday,” Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said. “We’re getting a lot of phone calls from federal employees who are worried.” He added that when federal workers don’t receive a paycheck, “I think the pressure is going to build.”
Er, yes, the pressure is about to build, which is why Congress might be bugging out for the weekend, too. However, the actions they’re taking before a nice weekend back home suggests that pressure actually has built up — just not enough for either side to bend at all yet:
Before skipping town, the Senate approved a bill Thursday providing backpay for federal workers affected by the shutdown, at the behest of Democrats including Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). The House plans to take up that same bill Friday, according to a Democratic aide, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the president assured him he’d sign the bill. …
Approving legislation to eventually repay federal employees could lessen some of the P.R. backlash that lawmakers are feeling — particularly newly minted House Democrats who say they’re already feeling pressure to answer for the shutdown they inherited. Still, federal workers won’t see a dime of their paychecks until the 21-day shutdown ends.
The frosh class of House Democrats are the most vulnerable because they mainly come from moderate districts won back from the GOP. That includes suburban districts that might not like Donald Trump much, but also don’t think that barriers to supplement border security are “immoral.” Politico covered the discontent on Wednesday at the above link:
“If I am getting comments and contact from my constituents expressing concern that the Democrats are not prioritizing security, then I think we can do better,” said freshman Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.). …
“I don’t think that it’s the Democrats in the House’s fault that we are in a shutdown,” said Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas), who attended the huddle in Williamsburg, Va., and is one of two freshman class presidents. “But I do think it’s setting us back in terms of those coalitions we’re trying to build.”
One senior Democratic lawmaker who talked to multiple freshmen after the meeting said there is “a lot of drama” within the class about how to handle the shutdown.
“Do they stay in Washington or do they leave? Does our leadership understand that they’re getting blamed? Do they take their pay or do they give it back?” said the senior Democrat, explaining conversations with freshmen in recent days. “You have a very active freshman class. [And] leadership itself doesn’t agree on how to proceed, … what bills to bring up, what order to bring them up.”
Tuesday’s speech by Trump might have created even more problems in those districts. Jim Acosta’s unintentional border-wall endorsement video probably didn’t help either. The Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes elected in safe Democrat districts have nothing to worry about, but most of the rookies come from districts where they can expect robust general-election challenges in 2020. An argument that federal workers were deprived of paychecks because Nancy Pelosi thinks border walls are “immoral” will sell pretty well in Brooklyn, but not in Kansas, Texas, or even Virginia.
At this point, Politico reports, most Democrats are just waiting around for the inevitable emergency declaration so that they can pass a clean CR. They’re not waiting around Washington, though.
Addendum: As I noted in my column at The Week, nothing will change on this until the incentives change:
A year ago, a solution seemed ready to emerge when the shutdown shoe was on the other foot. Schumer forced that standoff over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as it appeared the courts might intervene to allow Trump to shut it down. Talks began on trading a statutory version of DACA in exchange for more robust funding for a border-barrier system, along with asylum and visa policy changes. Schumer had to cave on the shutdown when it became apparent it wouldn’t work, but the courts then punted on DACA for the short term, taking the pressure off Democrats to save it.
Without that pressure, they have no incentive to make a deal that includes border-wall funding. In fact, the midterm election results appear to give Pelosi a mandate to confront Trump across the board, especially on the border wall. Trump himself added to that perception by making border security his top message in the midterms, which ended up falling flat. If Pelosi is seen to give Trump what he wants on the wall without some dramatic concessions in return, she’ll face a revolt among the rank and file as well as the progressive activists that aren’t entirely thrilled with her leadership anyway. And after all the high drama of an 18-day shutdown, DACA won’t be a big enough concession.
What about Trump? He has no incentive to back down either. He will have no chance at all at getting border-wall funding in the next two budget cycles if he retreats now. Trump might believe that he has no chance of winning re-election if he caves to Pelosi and Schumer on his central policy, and he may well be right. Trump is also dropping hints that he may use a declaration of emergency to use funds at the Pentagon to build the wall. If Trump sees that as a realistic option — it has significant legal hurdles but isn’t entirely impossible — then he has no incentive to cross no-man’s-land either.
We’ll see how much voter anger arises over this standoff, and how much pressure it puts on those incentives. An emergency declaration would short-circuit all of this for as long as it takes the courts to sort it out, but the standoff would still continue.