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On Day 6 Of Shutdown, Government Remains At Impasse


Today is the sixth day of a government shutdown that seems almost certain to stretch into the new year. There has been virtually no progress in President Trump's standoff with Democrats over his demand for money to build a wall on the border with Mexico. During a surprise visit to U.S. troops in Iraq yesterday, Trump joked about tricking Democrats into backing the wall.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think I'll say, I don't want the wall, and then they're going to give it to me. I figured out the solution.

SHAPIRO: Trump is now back in Washington, and he's keeping up the fight. NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell is following all of this, and she's here in the studio with us. Hi, Kelsey.


SHAPIRO: OK, President Trump is back in town. Congress was in session today. And yet it doesn't seem like there's any progress. What's going on?

SNELL: Yeah, there really doesn't seem to be any progress. And Congress was only sort of here. They gaveled in and gaveled out almost immediately. It's like they were kind of ghosts in the Capitol (laughter). I mean, part of what's happening here is that they just aren't talking to one another. This is unlike any shutdown I've ever seen before because they really aren't negotiating. It's a - it's not a policy fight. There's nothing to negotiate. It's all about the politics. And both sides are really dug in here. Democrats say that they won't support a wall, and President Trump says he won't sign a spending bill without it. So they're stuck.

SHAPIRO: And meanwhile there are real human consequences. People are missing out on paychecks. Is that impacting the talks or lack of talks?

SNELL: Well, it doesn't really seem like that's been taken into account much either. The Office of Personnel Management put out guidance today telling federal workers how they should handle things if they can't pay their bills and gave them these draft letters that they could send to creditors and landlords to try to explain that they can't maybe meet their financial obligations. That's kind of where things stand - managing the problem, not expecting a solution. You know, it's really interesting that this is not a local-to-D.C. problem. About 85 percent of federal workers that aren't in the military or working for the postal service work outside of D.C., so this is a nationwide situation.

SHAPIRO: There was this meeting in the White House that we all remember where Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer met with President Trump, and President Trump said he would gladly take the blame for any shutdown. Today he's blaming Democrats for the shutdown. Tell us about how he is framing this.

SNELL: Yeah, he's framing it as being about Democrats not wanting border security. He tweeted that Democrats have finally realized that we desperately need border security and a wall on the southern border. They need to stop drugs. He says, do the Dems realize that most of the people not getting paid are Democrats? He says this without any evidence. And they - Democrats say they do support money on - for border security, just not for the wall. So they're not even speaking the same language here.

SHAPIRO: You said that this fight seems to be coming down to politics rather than policy. Tell us about the politics of this. The president has always said he thinks immigration is a winning issue for him. Does that still seem to be the case?

SNELL: Not only does he seem to think it's a winning issue. He seems to be fundraising off of it. The Trump campaign put out tweets and - sorry, they - text messages today asking people to donate to become a, quote, "official build the wall member." And this is happening as the administration is under fire as a second child died in U.S. custody at the border. And Democrats are calling his policies immoral. They are framing this as a moral question. It's beyond politics for Democrats. And that makes it much harder for them to move off of it when they've taken it on as a central part of their governing theory and their ideological theory.

SHAPIRO: And Democrats are going to take over the House of Representatives just next week.

SNELL: Yes, and we don't expect any action in the Congress until then.

SHAPIRO: NPR congressional reporter Kelsey Snell, thank you.

SNELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.