State of Play: Trump, Pelosi and Schumer met over border funding. Now what?
Posted December 12, 2018 9:28 a.m. EST
(CNN) — Welp, that was fun.
The meeting between President Donald Trump, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was one of the more fascinating things to watch in real time that most aides CNN spoke to Tuesday had ever seen -- including those who are usually in the room for such meetings. Why? Because of just how clearly all sides were playing for the cameras and audience by the time it was all said and done. It was political. It was base rallying. It was confrontation. It was pure, very public positioning for future talks on an issue where the impasse has been clear for more than two weeks.
"It was lights, camera, action," was how one senior Democratic aide -- who was thrilled with results -- put it. Both sides are claiming a piece of post-theatrical victory, but make no mistake, even Republicans on Capitol Hill acknowledge the President seemingly walking right into saying -- and outright embracing -- the blame for a shutdown was a strategic error that undercuts what his Congressional allies have been saying for days.
The overall state of negotiations hasn't really changed much after the meeting. Things are mostly in the same place. But this blowup had to happen for things to reset and have an opportunity to come to a resolution. If there is a resolution to be had, the effort should start to kick into motion in the next few days.
Things look bad right now -- and they are. But for those who have been around these negotiations for years, the bad meeting (or meetings) always has to happen to clear the way for the good meeting.
And it kicks the process into gear, however ugly it appeared. Lawmakers don't want to be in Washington after next week. In fact, nearly two dozen House lawmakers weren't even back for votes Tuesday.
See the above as the "always darkest before the dawn" position. There are off-ramps here, in the form of shorter-term punts with symbolic additions on the periphery, if leaders on both sides want to take them, and given how many shutdowns or shutdown threats the Congress has been through over the last five or so years, remember there are also crisis-hardened staffers on both sides who know how to thread those needles -- if their bosses give them the green light of course.
That said, as one aide reminded me yesterday of the late Sen. John McCain's saying: "It's always darkest before it turns pitch black." Take that as an indication of how clearly things are just up in the air right now.
Days until a partial government shutdown
Will there be a shutdown?
Most people who watched the Oval Office show would think it's a lock. Those working on the issue say they still think there's plenty of time and several potential ways out.
Key point from a GOP senator Tuesday night: "Ten days is a lifetime when it comes to spending negotiations."
That said, if the government shuts down at midnight on December 21, make no mistake -- it will not re-open until the new Congress and Democrats take control of the House.
What happens next
Watch House Republicans. As CNN reported, they are looking to have the President's back and throw their Homeland Security appropriations bill -- which includes $5 billion for the border wall -- onto the floor, likely with some additional immigration restrictions, aides say. The issue now is if it can even pass. GOP leadership aides say they think they can get it over the finish line. Others are more skeptical.
To be perfectly clear: this has no future in the Senate. But putting it on the floor and moving it to the Senate, where it will die (or watching it fail in the House) is a key piece of the legislative maneuvering that opens up pathways in negotiations.
"Story of the last eight years," one senior GOP aide said. "Gotta show it can't move before we can move onto something that can."
The posturing is expected to continue publicly, aides on both sides say, and the President is already tweeting about the wall early Wednesday morning. The real question is if -- and when -- serious talks start between the White House and Democrats. Several people involved in the Hill-side of negotiations say they're ready to get to work on trying to find a way out.
What to read
CNN's Manu Raju and Caroline Kelly on the, shall we say, very blunt Pelosi views on the meeting behind closed doors when she returned to the Capitol.
This Alex Rogers/Jeremy Diamond/Manu Raju piece with the big picture after the fireworks.
Approximately 75% of the federal government is funded through September 2019. No shutdown is pain free, should it occur, but this would be limited in its disruption. The Pentagon is funded. The Health and Human Services and Labor Departments are funded.
There are seven appropriations bills that need to be passed before midnight on December 21. Six of them are mostly closed out, aides say, and ready to move. The fight was, is, and will continue to be over a single piece of a single bill: the Department of Homeland Security funding measure.