Utah’s members of Congress want to end the shutdown but aren’t giving an inch over border wall funding

Signs announce the visitor center at the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri Valley, Iowa, is closed, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019, as the partial government shutdown continues. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is directing dozens of wildlife refuges to return to work to make sure hunters and others have access despite the government shutdown, according to an email obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Washington • As the partial government shutdown continues into its 20th day — nearly tying it for the longest closure in American history — Democrats and Republicans are digging in.

So how does it end?

Utah’s members of Congress aren’t sure, and while they’re hopeful a solution comes soon, they’re not giving in.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, isn’t saying if he’d support a bill that doesn’t include the border wall funding that President Donald Trump is demanding.

“I’m concerned about the financial challenges that many Utah families and businesses are facing as federal workers start to miss paychecks,” Romney said Wednesday. “I’m hopeful this will be resolved soon in a way that protects border security and reopens the government, and that’s what I’m focused on with my colleagues.”

About 800,000 federal workers are affected, with half, like FBI agents and essential employees, forced to work without pay and the other half furloughed with no idea when they’ll be back to work.

Democrats, who control the House, have passed bills to reopen the government with $1.3 billion for border security but no funding for a border wall that Trump has demanded.

The GOP-run Senate has refused to take up that bill and Trump visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday to firm up support for his wall a day after giving an Oval Office address saying immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border is a major crisis. He seeks $5.7 billion to build a wall.

On Wednesday, Trump walked out of White House negotiations with Democratic congressional leaders calling it a “total waste of time” after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York refused to give in on his demand for wall funding.

“Just left a meeting with Chuck and Nancy, a total waste of time,” Trump tweeted. “I asked what is going to happen in 30 days if I quickly open things up, are you going to approve Border Security which includes a Wall or Steel Barrier? Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!”

Democratic aides said Trump really did say “bye-bye” as he left the meeting in the Situation Room.

Schumer later called it a “a temper tantrum” by the president, who he said slammed the table before walking out.

“This was really, really unfortunate, and in my judgment, somewhat unbecoming of a presidency," Schumer said.

Back on the Hill, little progress was made as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said his caucus was unified with Trump — despite some Republicans hedging and saying they’d vote for a bill without wall funding. McConnell has refused to bring that legislation up for a vote.

Utah’s lone Democrat in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams, noted he’d voted to pass a bill that had previous Senate approval to fund the government without money for a wall.

“The impasse can end," he said, “as soon as all sides move forward where we can agree.”

McAdams said Congress must work in a bipartisan fashion and stop digging in.

“Taxpayers need access restored to programs and services,” he added. “Once that happens, we can begin the important debate on border security, immigration reform and other issues. I think there is plenty of room for compromise and finding common ground on border security and immigration reform.”

The longest government shutdown lasted 21 days from December 2005 through January 2006 as President Bill Clinton clashed with House Speaker Newt Gingrich over spending cuts.

With little action so far, the current shutdown is likely to last even longer.

Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said Wednesday that he hopes a compromise can be reached soon, though he agrees with fellow Republicans that border security funding is vital to any deal.

“Increasing resources and funding to strengthen our border should not be a partisan issue, and I support efforts to reopen the government while also addressing border security,” Curtis said. “Thousands of Americans across the nation, including those at home in Utah, feel the impact of this government shutdown.”

Curtis has introduced legislation that would cease pay for members of Congress during a government shutdown “because if Congress can’t do our job to fund the government, we shouldn’t be getting paid.”

Members are currently being paid, though some like Curtis and McAdams have asked the House clerk to withhold their pay until the government closure ends.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said he’s hopeful for a compromise that reopens the government and also builds more walls on the southern border.

His office said the senator isn’t going to speculate on whether he’d support a bill that doesn’t include wall funding to get the government up and running again.

"We really would have to see the specific spending bill in question before we determined whether or not we would vote for it,” said Lee’s spokesman Conn Carroll.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said he's still hopeful that Democrats and Republicans can make a compromise and get the full government running again.

“Compromise means each side makes concessions,” Stewart said. “The president has already compromised a great deal. He started out at $25 billion for border security. He's now down to $5 billion.”

Trump had initially called for $25 billion for the border wall during his 2016 campaign but the current dispute is over $5.7 billion. Democrats have offered $1.3 billion in border security funding but not money for a physical wall.

Stewart also said that Trump offered a carrot for Democrats by including protections for immigrants brought to America without documents as children, commonly known as Dreamers. Trump pulled that offer before the shutdown.

“Democrats have voted for physical barriers and border security under previous presidents,” Stewart said. “I want a deal that includes border security while providing certainty for our Dreamers."

Stewart isn't sure, either, what he'd ultimate accept but he has a checklist of mandatory parts of the legislation.

“What is needed is overall border security, which includes: drones, cameras, physical barriers and other technology,” Stewart said. “I will support a budget where the focus is on these elements.”