The United States is preparing for a showdown this week after Donald Trump offered a contentious proposal after 31 days of shutdown.
Democrats immediately shot down Mr Trump’s Saturday offer to restore protections for young immigrants known as “Dreamers”, because it still included $US5.7 billion ($A8 billion) for a border wall.
Mr Trump’s greatest foe, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, called the offer of temporary protection for about a million undocumented immigrants a “non-starter”. Democrats are unwilling to fund Mr Trump’s wall, but his proposal increases the pressure on the party, which says it will not negotiate until the government is reopened.
“If he opens up the government, we’ll discuss whatever he offers, but hostage taking should not work,” Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer told reporters in New York on Sunday. “It’s very hard to negotiate when a gun is held to your head.”
The US President went on the attack after the Democrats turned him down, criticising Ms Pelosi for acting “so irrationally” and being a “radical”. He said his opponents should “do the right thing for the Country & allow people to go back to work.”
Democrats say they will not provide more than $US1.3 billion ($A1.8 billion) for border security including fencing and cameras.
Despite the continuing hostility, this could be the first step towards reopening the government, as the shutdown continues to wreak havoc on America.
‘THEY DON’T SEE CRIME & DRUGS, THEY ONLY SEE 2020’
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell will bring up legislation as early as Tuesday, containing the President’s proposal plus billions in disaster relief.
Ms Pelosi will on Wednesday bring up six bills in the House of Representatives to fund closed government agencies as negotiations continue.
Neither is likely to get their legislation passed, but the President’s offer marks a turning point, after he previously refused to extend protections for Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals, who entered the US as children, and those with Temporary Protected Status because of crises in their home countries.
It will not be an easy road, however. The President remains determined to build his wall on the US-Mexico border, a structure Democrats see as unnecessary and immoral.
Both sides blame the other for the continuing shutdown, with the 800,000 federal workers on leave without pay or working without pay bearing the brunt of the political impasse.
Polls show most Americans blame Mr Trump for the shutdown, after he told Ms Pelosi and Mr Schumer he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security” in December. “I will take the mantle,” the President said at the time, but he has since changed his stance, holding the Democrats responsible for refusing to agree to pay for his wall.
“They don’t see crime & drugs, they only see 2020 — which they are not going to win,” he tweeted on Sunday.
‘HE’S LOSING THE PUBLIC OPINION WAR’
A recent Quinnipiac University survey found 56 per cent of voters held Mr Trump and congressional Republicans in Congress responsible for the shutdown, with 36 per cent blaming Democrats.
A January 13 Washington Post-ABC News survey found 53 per cent blamed Mr Trump to 29 per cent blaming the Democrats, with his overall approval ratings also suffering.
While his core supporter base is more supportive of the wall than ever, 59 per cent of Americans said it was not necessary to protect the border, Quinnipiac reported.
“The President is very much aware he’s losing the public opinion war on this one,” a senior administration official told the Post. “He looks at the numbers.”
Lady Gaga on Sunday paused her Las Vegas show to demand “that the f***ing president of the United States could please put our government back in business.”
She added: “There are people who live pay cheque to pay cheque and need their money.”
The President’s advisers have been looking for a way out, according to US media reports. Mr McConnell told Mr Trump, Mr Pence and White House aides last week that they needed to put forward a public offer.
Mr Trump had previously said he would not budge on DACA protections, so this marks a significant change in policy. Conservative Republicans criticised the compromise as being tantamount to amnesty for illegal immigrants, while Democrats said it was hardly a compromise, since it was Mr Trump who decided to end protections in the first place.
“Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else,” Mr Trump reassured his voters. “Likewise there will be no big push to remove the 11,000,000 plus people who are here illegally — but be careful Nancy!”
Ms Pelosi hit back: “Re-open the government, let workers get their paychecks and then we can discuss how we can come together to protect the border.”
House minority leader Kevin McCarthy said Mr Trump had put forward “a serious and reasonable offer to reform parts of our broken immigration system and reopen government” and that “the moment now turns to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.”
‘THE PRESIDENT HAS OPENED THE DOOR’
It seems clear Democrats will not agree to fund a $US5.7 billion wall, but Vice President Mike Pence suggested on Fox News Sunday that Mr Trump’s proposal could be amended on the Senate floor.
Mr Pence told CBS’s Face the Nation the proposal “provides a framework for ending this impasse”, citing Martin Luther King Jr’s famous quote the day before MLK Day: “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”
The vice president was criticised for invoking the civil rights leader, whose son shot back that his father “was a bridge builder, not a wall builder.”
Mr Trump and Mr Pence made a six-minute, unscheduled visit to the Martin Luther King Jr memorial on Washington’s National Wall on a bitterly cold Monday morning.
They placed a wreath and Mr Trump briefly addressed reporters, saying it was a “great” and “beautiful” day but not directly mentioning MLK. He also ignored questions about the shutdown.
Democrats have already passed a series of government funding bills in the House to reopen various departments and agencies, but Mr McConnell insisted he will not bring legislation to the Senate if Mr Trump does not support it.
Republicans have closed ranks around the President, echoing this view that any deal-making rests with him.
“McConnell’s view of shutdowns is when you’re in one, it’s a great opportunity for both sides to get things,” Republican strategist Scott Jennings told the New York Times. “And what I think is dumbfounding everyone here is: Why aren’t the Democrats treating it as a situation where they could get something? The President has opened the door for them to get something, so let’s talk.”
Mr McConnell would need votes from all Republicans and seven Democrats in the senate for his package to pass, but is only likely to win support from a few Democrats in knife-edge states, or those desperate for disaster relief.
‘HE’S TRYING TO PUT THE PRESSURE BACK ON’
“He’s starting to move the pieces around to see what’s going to fly and what’s not going to make it,” Democrat Jim Manley told the Times. “He’s trying to put the pressure back on Democrats, and he’s trying to see what the possibilities of a deal are by putting a larger package there. He’s trying to see how large the package has to be to bring Democrats on board.”
The nation cannot keep functioning for much longer now it has entered week five of the record shutdown. Officials fear they will soon run out of temporary solutions, with emergency pools of funding set to run dry in February and workers due to miss another pay cheque on Friday.
Mr Trump tweeted on Sunday that he had not yet decided whether to postpone his agenda-setting State of the Union address on January 29, as Ms Pelosi has requested.
Republican pollster Neil Newhouse told the Post the situation was “a national game of chicken.”
After talks repeatedly broke down, Mr Trump and leading Democrats Mr Schumer and Ms Pelosi have not spoken directly in days.
Mr Pence, Jared Kushner and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney are all working hard on the President’s behalf to push through a deal.
GOP strategist Michael Steel told the Post the shutdown had become “a test of strength between the president and Washington Democrats” and its conclusion would be an indication of how well the broken relationship may work over the next two years.
The nation is limping along in a state of bitter divide, and something has to give.