Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was tempered and set expectations low in his own remarks. “I don’t think any particular progress was made today,” he told CNN, calling the meeting “civil.” “We are hopeful that somehow in the coming days or weeks we will be able to reach an agreement.”
Read: The Republican majority’s last act: a government shutdown
Nearly two weeks into the shutdown, neither side has budged at all. First, the outgoing Republican House decided to punt the issue to the incoming Democratic majority, which will be sworn in on Thursday and promptly vote for the two funding measures.
By splitting off DHS from the larger bill, Democrats hope to trap Trump, daring him to reject funding for most of the government—even though they are flouting his single demand, which is that Congress give him $5 billion for a wall. After Democrats unveiled the plan on Monday, the president promptly announced he would not sign it, and a spokesman for McConnell said the Senate wouldn’t take up anything the president wasn’t going to sign.
It’s hard to imagine Democrats giving way on wall funding. They have said consistently that they will not fund the barrier, and while Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has proved willing to compromise with the White House, Pelosi is more rigid—and has a new majority united (at least on this issue) behind her. If Democrats gave in now, it would be an abdication that would take the wind out of the party’s newly full sails and likely split the caucus.
At first glance, Trump also has little reason to compromise. He has staked his presidency on building the wall, and giving in now would betray his base—just as he enters the back half of his term, with the presidential election far closer than perhaps many Americans would like. But the White House was close to compromising before Christmas, only to reverse course after being pressured by conservative media figures such as Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh. He also reneged on his pledge, made during a televised meeting with Schumer and Pelosi, to take responsibility for any shutdown.
Trump appears to have no plan now, other than sending a barrage of angry tweets. But those missives have often undermined his case; he has asserted, for example, that the wall is already partly built (it’s not), that border security is already strong (so why is the wall needed?), and that Mexico is already paying for the wall (then why is Congress needed?). Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, the president seemed to leave the door open to settling for slightly less money, though he was vague. Trump has a long-standing tendency to fold in negotiations, but given that this is a high-profile case, he may hold strong here.
Read: Trump almost always folds
Caught in between is the GOP-led Senate. Republicans could stick with Trump and prolong the stalemate in the hope of making Democrats squirm. Or they could lose patience with Trump and toss the ball to the White House by passing a smaller funding bill. The Senate already passed a stopgap bill with $1.6 billion for border security, far short of Trump’s $5 billion, in December.