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Donald, Chuck & Nancy: The Sequel

Photo: Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

Here we go again. On Tuesday at 11:30 am, President Trump plans to meet with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to see if they can cut a deal to keep the government open. Over the past two days, we've emailed and spoken to more than a dozen Democrats and Republicans in close touch with leadership. None were optimistic that Tuesday's meeting could yield a durable deal.

The bottom line: The problem is simple: Trump wants $5 billion for his border wall, and Pelosi and Schumer don't want to give it to him.

  • Especially not Pelosi, who won't even commit to the $1.6 billion Schumer has already offered. She has offered a one-year funding extension at current levels ($1.3 billion for border security).
  • Pelosi is more ideologically progressive than Schumer, oversees a more progressive conference than he does, has a Speaker's vote on the floor in January, vehemently opposes Trump's immigration policies, and has no incentive to give Trump anything.

The two likeliest scenarios, according to these sources:

  • Possibility 1: A partial government shutdown (about 25% of the government). It's not clear how Trump would reopen the government, given Democrats are unlikely to pay for his wall.
  • Possibility 2: Yet another short-term funding extension to push the problem to next year.

A senior Democratic Senate aide summed up the week ahead: "Democrats aren't going to move on the $1.6 billion in the Homeland Security bill. A shutdown around the holiday makes no sense for the Republicans. And we have the backstop of Speaker Pelosi passing a continuing resolution [short-term funding extension] as her first act, putting Republicans in a terrible spot."

  • "My actual prediction out of the meeting is jumbled posturing from both sides leading to more chaos and an eventual continuing resolution," the source added.
  • Trump has wanted his border security money to come without restrictions — a sticking point with Democrats, who are willing to appropriate funds for border security measures, but not for Trump's wall.

Between the lines: Notice how quiet Republicans have been about the shutdown fight? It's because they don't want to deal with this right now; they want to go home for Christmas. They are united in their enthusiasm about getting out of town ASAP — and that leaves Trump with little leverage.

Behind the scenes: You'll hear Democrats say — and some Republicans, too, privately — that Trump should be happy with $1.6 billion for border security because that's what he asked for in his 2019 budget.

But here's an anecdote that illuminates the reality:

  • During a White House meeting in June, Republican Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Richard Shelby discussed border security with Trump and several White House officials, including Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.
  • Capito told Trump they'd be able to deliver the $1.6 billion in wall funding he requested. According to a source with direct knowledge, Trump replied, "Who asked for $1.6 billion?" (The answer: Trump’s 2019 budget, which Mulvaney prepared.)

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