The Smithsonian National Zoo Main gate is closed to the public on Jan. 2, 2019, in Washington, D.C. With the new Congress scheduled to start on Jan. 3, Congressional Democrats and Republicans have not come to a bipartisan solution to President Donald Trump's demands for more money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
The Smithsonian National Zoo Main gate is closed to the public on Jan. 2, 2019, in Washington, D.C. With the new Congress scheduled to start on Jan. 3, Congressional Democrats and Republicans have not come to a bipartisan solution to President Donald Trump's demands for more money to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Top leaders from both the House and Senate met Wednesday with President Donald Trump for a briefing about Trump’s controversial border wall and as he said in a tweet, to “make a deal.”

The meeting came on the heels of the 12th day of a partial federal government shutdown, leaving a quarter of the government closed and 800,000 federal workers furloughed or forced to work without pay.

Democrats, poised to take control of the House, say they have a plan to reopen the government – and it does not include the $5 billion requested by the president for his wall with Mexico. There have been almost no discussions until this point with members of both parties and Trump and so the meeting offered both sides a chance to restart talks.

Invitations for the meeting went to incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer as well as House GOP leaders Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, Senate Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin and Senate Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and John Thune.

Democrats say it would be irresponsible for Senate Republicans not to take up their package, which would fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8 at existing spending levels, effectively allowing more time for Trump to reconsider his refusal to budge on the Mexican border wall to that date.

It would separately fund other parts of the government through the end of the current fiscal year. The Senate previously approved a stopgap bill to fund all of the remaining bills, including DHS, through Feb. 8.

“If Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans refuse to support the first bill, then they are complicit with President Trump in continuing the Trump shutdown and in holding the health and safety of the American people and workers’ paychecks hostage over the wall,” incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

“It would be the height of irresponsibility and political cynicism for Senate Republicans to now reject the same legislation they have already supported,” they said, alluding to a bill that passed the Senate in December.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), historically opposed to and warning against shutdowns, appears to have become silent amidst the current battle over funding. But that doesn’t mean has ended his support for the president.

“The Senate is not going to send something to the President that he won’t sign,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, when asked about the House plan.

Senate GOP members could take up the House bill and amend it, or try to pass their own legislation, but Stewart did not indicate which way he believes the party will decide. However, he did highlight a recent floor speech from the Senate GOP leader, where he outlined what a successful bill would need to be able to do.

“In order to get us out of this mess, a negotiated solution will need to check these boxes: It will need the support of 60 Senators, obviously including a number of Democrats. It will need to pass the House. And it will need a presidential signature,” McConnell then said.

But the ramifications could be long-lasting as the bill would significantly limit the effects of the shutdown and allow the president to continue waging war with Democrats over the border wall. Moreover, McConnell will probably refrain from opening up himself or his colleagues to negative views from conservatives and the president on an issue deemed critical to the party’s base ahead of the 2020 election.

The back-and-forth comes as negotiators have largely been stalemated since the Dec. 21 funding deadline. The Capitol has transformed into a ghost town with the partial shutdown, coupled with the holiday season, leaving only a handful of lawmakers in Washington.

Mayor Bowser: ‘D.C. Remains Open for Business’

As the partial federal government shutdown continues, Mayor Muriel Bowser and Destination DC, the official tourism organization for the District, remind residents and visitors that “D.C. is Open” and have encouraged people to enjoy local events and attractions.

“We know that federal government shutdowns cause many disruptions for both residents and visitors, but we want to remind everyone that while the federal government might be closed, D.C. is open for business,” Bowser said. “I am proud that through these challenging times, local businesses, event organizers, and others are stepping up and providing our residents and visitors continued access to resources, attractions, and activities that make D.C. the greatest city to live in and visit.”

Despite the expected, upcoming closures of the Smithsonian museums, research centers, and the National Zoo, effective Jan. 2, a host of other events and attractions around the District will not be affected, Bowser said.

“While we’re disappointed the Smithsonian museums will close on January 2, the vast majority of things for visitors to see and do throughout Washington, D.C.’s neighborhoods remain open,” said Elliott L. Ferguson II, president and CEO of Destination DC. “It’s a great time to find a deal in the city and explore The Wharf, our Michelin-rated dining scene, watch a hockey or basketball game or see a show.”

Both the House and Senate met on Monday for a pro-forma session. Combined, the two chambers were in session for less than five minutes. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) warned that the partial shutdown “could last a long, long time” without a jumpstart in the negotiations.

“Right now, we’re at a standoff,” Shelby, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told CBS News’s “Face the Nation. “[But] nobody wins in a shutdown. We all lose and we kind of look silly.”

The result has been negotiations that are largely in a holding pattern. Trump unleashed a string of tweets against Democrats on Monday, arguing they were using a “ridiculous sound bite” to say that a wall “doesn’t work.”

“It does, and properly built, almost 100 percent! They say it’s old technology – but so is the wheel. They now say it is immoral – but it is far more immoral for people to be dying!” he said.

In another tweet, Trump implored Democrats to return to Washington, saying that he was “in the Oval Office” and Democrats should “come back from vacation now.”

Republicans demanded $5 billion for the border wall, an amount that was backed by a seven-week stopgap bill House Republicans passed days before the shutdown deadline. But they’ve signaled since then that they are willing to accept roughly half of that, $2.5 billion.

Lawmakers and administration officials say they’ve made offers, unsuccessfully so far, to Schumer along those lines, including potentially being willing to go as low as $2.1 billion. But it’s unclear if Trump would sign such a deal and Democrats are making it clear they are not yet ready to back down from their negotiating position.

Schumer and Pelosi blasted Trump on Monday saying he “sits in the White House and tweets, without offering any plan that can pass both chambers of Congress” and urged him to “come to his senses.”

Bowser sent an earlier letter to the president on Dec. 26, 2018, requesting that the full federal government get back to business for the benefit of her city.

“On behalf of the more than 702,000 residents and many businesses in Washington, D.C., I urge you to work with Congress to bring an immediate end to the current partial government shutdown,” the mayor wrote. “Indeed, many D.C. residents, businesses, including restaurants and hotels and federal contractors will suffer severe impacts if the shutdown continues indefinitely.”

She has ordered the D.C. Department of Employment Services to work with furloughed workers in claiming unemployment compensation by extending its hours of service. The D.C. Department of Public Works has picked up trash and litter on National Park Service properties but did does entail a cost of $46,000 a week.

In her letter, Bowser said D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) has taken the District government out of the federal government shutdown process “which is why we remain open.”

One federal employee who lives in Prince George’s County said that his agency isn’t affected by the shutdown, but his wife works for a Cabinet-level department and “”she sits around and watches TV all day.”

“We are doing fine right now but it will really begin to hurt at the end of the month,” said the federal employee who requested anonymity. “My salary covers the mortgage this month, but we need that money to cover other bills. Plus, our son attends Frostburg State University and that will cut into our budget also.”

Another federal employee who works for a Cabinet-level department said his family has enough money to last until April “and then if I am not back to work, we will be in real trouble.”

This source said the shutdown, along with the prospect that he may have to move his family to another city because his division may be re-locating this year, has only added to the stress.

Some restaurants and bars are offering discounts to federal employees including &Pizza on U Street in Northwest. But others, like the famed Ben’s Chili Bowl restaurant, will not.

Virginia Ali, the co-founder of Ben’s, said, “The shutdown doesn’t affect us as a lot of our customers are tourists. We are a tourist destination. But I have heard some of our customers talk about the shutdown. People are very anxious about this and many people are wondering how they will make ends meet.”

Many residents and tourists said they felt disappointed upon learning that the popular Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) would be forced to lock its doors effective Jan. 2.

Donald Maddrey, Springfield, visited the NMAAHC on Dec. 29 and expressed displeasure at the museum’s temporary closure and the shutdown situation.

“I am very disappointed,” he said. “This is an important museum for people to be engaged and learn about our country’s history and we are being deprived of this because of politics.”

Hampton resident Pamela Harris, sitting next to Maddrey, agreed. However, she questioned the motives behind the shutdown.

“This museum needs to be open,” she said. “This museum tells people where African Americans came from and where are we going.”

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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