WASHINGTON - The Capitol was quiet Saturday morning in the opening hours of a partial government shutdown, after lawmakers went home Friday evening with Congress still at an impasse over President Donald Trump's demands for billions of dollars to build wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Both the House and Senate opened at noon Saturday, but there were no signs of progress in negotiations, which have only been happening at the staff level since a brief huddle late Friday afternoon with Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Few lawmakers were in the Capitol on Saturday morning, and no votes were scheduled in either chamber. Many lawmakers took off Friday night to return to their home states as they await word of the talks, having been assured that they will get 24 hours notice before any vote occurs to reopen government.
That all but guarantees the shutdown will last at least through the weekend.
Trump wrote on Twitter that "We are negotiating with the Democrats on desperately needed Border Security . . . but it could be a long stay."
The fundamental stalemate remains in place: Trump says he won't accept legislation unless it contains money for his border wall, and Democrats have the votes to block any legislation that does. Trump sees this round of negotiations as his best - and possibly last - chance to get money from Congress for the wall, as Democrats are set to take over the House in January after big wins in the midterm elections.
Now that gridlock is affecting large parts of the federal government. Funding for numerous agencies, including those that operate national parks, homeland security, law enforcement, tax collection and transportation, expired at midnight. Close to 400,000 federal workers are expected to be sitting at home without pay until a deal is reached, and numerous services will be halted in that time, with the affects broadening the longer the funding lapse lasts.
Dozens of national parks and monuments are slated to close, some as soon as Saturday morning. The Securities and Exchange Commission posted a list of the services it will soon suspend, including the processing of certain business records. The Justice Department, Commerce Department and Internal Revenue Service are preparing to keep thousands of workers home without pay.
Employees at those agencies deemed essential will continue working but without pay, including many Transportation Security Administration workers dealing with the influx of holiday travelers. After every previous shutdown, Congress has passed legislation retroactively paying employees.
The rest of the government, including the military, is funded through September by separate legislation Congress and Trump passed earlier this year.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., opened the chamber Saturday with a 10-minute address that had hints of optimism but stronger suggestions of a partisan standoff that could last well beyond Saturday. Pointing to his red seasonal sweater, McConnell said he "hopes that Christmas is not too far away" and declared the solution is "really simple".
But McConnell then tried to pin the blame on Senate Democrats. He suggested government would remain closed "until the president and Senate Democrats have reached an agreement" - even though other Republicans have suggested this is a five-way negotiation among the White House and the four congressional leaders.
He pointed out other times when Senate Democrats had voiced support for border wall funding and yet now objected to any funds that would go toward an actual wall. "They've refused to meet President Trump halfway," McConnell said, declining to mention that those past talks included concessions by Trump on a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants. No such grand deal is on the table now.
Finally, McConnell reiterated the point of Friday's agreement to hit the "pause button" in the Senate so that there would be no more votes until a final deal is reached.
"It's my hope that it's reached sooner rather than later," he said.
Across the Captiol, the House had become a legislative ghost town. Shortly before noon, six Republicans and two Democrats were milling around the floor, with the Republicans discussing travel plans and Democrats preparing to speak. At noon, the House was called to order with a prayer that asked members to consider those "whose lives are made more difficult" by partisan stand-offs.
Seconds later, with the slam of a gavel, the House was adjourned. Republicans walked off the floor as House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., asked for order to "pass a bill to keep this government open." Off the floor, Hoyer said that the House was in limbo, perhaps for days, unless the Senate came up with something that could pass.
"Predicting what this president is going to do is not a worthwhile enterprise," said Hoyer. "I'm going to go to the Maryland basketball game this afternoon. Why? Because the Senate is negotiating. The earliest we could vote is on Monday. That's Christmas Eve. If they had agreement today, they might end up [holding the vote] on Wednesday night."
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, who had dropped in on the short pro forma session, reiterated that the House wasn't able to move until the Senate did. Like Hoyer, he was prepared for a shutdown that lasted past Christmas, with members leaving town before the government was funded.
"I had a flight last night, I have one tonight, and I am going on the one tomorrow night," said Simpson. "I thought we might actually get out on December 7. We had nine of the 12 appropriations bills ready to go."
Asked about the political impact of the shutdown - and of Trump's on-again, off-again effort to take credit for one - Simpson said it hardly mattered.
"Nobody's going to remember this in two years," added Simpson. "I don't really listen to what he says anymore. If I did, I'd be listening every minute to see what had changed."
The partial government shutdown starts after Trump torpedoed a bipartisan deal that would have kept federal agencies open through Feb. 8 but deny Trump any wall money. Lawmakers had cautiously expected Trump to sign the stopgap measure, especially after he suggested he could have the military build his wall anyway. (That strategy is legally dubious, as any funding would have to be redirected by Congress.)
But after a fierce conservative backlash against the deal, including from media outlets and figures known to have Trump's ear, the president reversed course - a flip that garnered bipartisan protest on Capitol Hill.
After Trump rejected the deal, House Republicans on Thursday passed a bill to extend funding through February and allocate $5.7 billion for a border wall, a bill Senate Democrats could block with votes to spare.
“President Trump, you will not get your wall,” Schumer said Friday. “You’re not getting your wall today, next week or on Jan. 3 when Democrats take control of the House.”