WASHINGTON – The federal government partially shut down Friday night as Republicans and Democrats in Congress failed to reach an agreement over President Donald Trump’s request of $5.7 billion for his proposed border wall.
The Republican-led House approved a government funding bill Thursday — largely along party lines — that includes the wall funding. But the bill needed 60 votes to pass in the Senate, meaning some Democrats would have to support it — a proposition that the minority party stood firmly against.
After hours of partisan bickering, neither side budged an inch over the issue or suggested there was any substantial compromise they were willing to make. The shutdown will disrupt government operations and leave hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed or forced to work without pay just days before Christmas.
Trump convened Republican senators for a lengthy meeting at the White House but it produced no clear path toward passage of a government-funding bill containing the president's call for billions for wall construction.
Asked mid-afternoon Friday if there was any way a shutdown could be avoided, South Carolina Republican U.S. Sen. Tim Scott said he saw only two possibilities.
"It's either money for the wall or a shutdown," said Scott, who attended the White House meeting. "I think that's it. It's that simple."
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who is also Trump's budget director and a former South Carolina congressman, was among several administration officials shuttling between the House and Senate throughout the afternoon in an attempt to negotiate. While the two sides said the talks were constructive, no deal could be reached.
Trump sought to shift blame to Democrats for refusing to concede on wall funding and threatened the shutdown could continue "for a very long time" unless they change their minds.
Democrats expressed little concern about that argument, saying it would be diluted by comments Trump made in an Oval Office meeting last week with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
“I am proud to shut down the government for border security," Trump said at the time. "So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I'm not going to blame you for it."
Democrats also pointed out that, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised that the border wall would be paid for by Mexico, not American taxpayers.
Republicans argued that Pelosi had overplayed her hand in last week's Oval Office meeting by telling Trump he wouldn't be able to pass the bill out of the House. Now that the House has passed it, Republicans felt the politics of the issue were on their side again.
Schumer said he would be open to offering $1.6 billion for border security measures, but the money would not go towards a wall. South Carolina's lone congressional Democrat, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of Columbia, said he would be fine with that outcome.
But South Carolina Republicans, like U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of Springdale, said anything short of a wall would be unacceptable.
"I think you have to have the wall based on the sophistication of the people trying to come across," Wilson said. "My constituents want a wall."
U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, said $1.6 billion would not be enough.
"That's like saying you're going to spend $5,000 on a Mercedes," Norman said. "They know the car won't run on one tire. They're playing dumb."
Departing U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Charleston, noted that the $5.7 billion amount pales in comparison to some of other federal legislation, like the $867 billion farm bill Congress passed last week.
"At the end of the day, from a numerical standpoint given the magnitude of the federal budget, it's a rounding error," Sanford said. "But it's become symbolic on both parties' ends for much, much more. And as a consequence, you see this knock-down, drag-out fight that we're going to see play out over the days ahead."
There are an estimated 50,000 federal employees in South Carolina, but not all of them will be affected by a partial government shutdown. Among those facing potentially long stays at home are staff from the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, State and Justice, as well as national parks and forests.
Hanging over the day's negotiations was widespread anxiety among lawmakers in both parties about the direction of Trump's foreign policy.
After a week in which Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis quit over Trump's abrupt decision to withdraw troops from Syria and potentially Afghanistan, the threat of global instability drew attention away at times from the funding debate.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., continued to voice detailed concerns about Trump's military retrenchment. But asked whether the government was headed towards a shutdown, he would only say, "We'll see."
Norman later proposed a constitutional amendment to prevent members of Congress from getting paid during a shutdown.
"If we cannot do our jobs, then we do not deserve to get paid, plain and simple," he said.
South Carolina's other outgoing Republican congressman, U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg, has already gone home because he said he wanted to spend time with his family.
Sanford watched with apparent bemusement as his congressional career trudged towards its conclusion with yet another shutdown fight, which he called "an odd but fitting capstone to the end of the first two years of the Trump presidency."
"It's completely chaotic," Sanford said. "I don't have any idea what's coming next, nor does anybody else unless they've got a crystal ball. And that causes people to be that much more cynical about the political process, to tune it out that much more, which is the last thing we can afford."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.