Trump Hints At ‘Nuclear Option’ As Partial Shutdown Enters Second Day

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Updated at 12:15 p.m. ET

As the federal government’s partial shutdown enters its second day, there are few discernible signs that lawmakers are on track to speedily resolve their standoff.

Instead, the two sides have spent the weekend digging in and getting their message out, and President Trump opened Sunday hinting at a “nuclear” solution.

“Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border. The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked,” Trump tweeted before 8 a.m. on Sunday. “If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51% (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long term budget, no C.R.’s!”

Trump was acknowledging the fact that a government spending bill would need 60 votes to pass the Senate, which would require at least nine Democrats to vote in favor of it. Republicans could theoretically vote to change its rules to require just a simple 51-vote majority to pass a spending bill, as they did to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Supreme Court, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have long voiced opposition to such an option.

“That would be the end of the Senate as it was originally devised and created going back to our founding fathers,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on ABC’s This Week on Sunday. “We have to acknowledge a respect for the minority, and that is what the Senate tries to do in its composition and its procedure.”

Republicans have continued to reiterate that they will not negotiate on immigration and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program while the government is shut down. And Democrats say a spending deal would also have to protect the immigrants who came to the country illegally as children and have been shielded from deportation by the DACA program.

“What we’re facing right now is Democrats taking an absolutely implausible position that says we’re going to deny funding to two million troops who are serving our country, tens of thousands of border patrol agents trying to protect our country, over an issue that’s not even in this bill,” said Marc Short, White House director of legislative affairs, on Sunday’s This Week as well. “That is an impossible position on which to negotiate.”

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney however, said on CBS’ Face The Nation that he had no real doubts military and border patrol agents would be paid for their work during the shutdown, just that their paychecks would be delayed.

On Capitol Hill, rare Saturday sessions in both chambers were characterized by recriminations rather than negotiations, including a procedural fight in the House over the wording on a sign used as a prop during a floor debate.

There were few signs that either side was feeling conciliatory.

President Trump’s son Eric appeared on Fox News on Saturday night, saying the reason Democrats “want to shut down government is to distract” from his father’s momentum.

“He’s gotten more done in one year than arguably any president in history,” Eric Trump said, on Justice with Judge Jeanine. “Honestly I think [the shutdown’s] a good thing for us, because people see through it.”

In the midst of the stalemate, President Trump’s re-election campaign released an ad declaring that “Democrats who stand in our way will be complicit in every murder committed by illegal immigrants,” a stance that did little to improve the negotiating climate. Short defended the ad on Sunday, saying “the reality is that there are safety concerns for our country.”

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, however, looked surprised after being shown the ad by John Dickerson on CBS’ Face The Nation and said “I don’t know if that’s necessarily productive, but it’s no secret the president has strong views on immigration.”

Senate Democrats gave no indication that they have softened their requirement that any deal to re-open the government must come with a side agreement on immigration. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., accused the president of essentially acting in bad faith after the two met one-on-one at the White House on Friday.

“What’s even more frustrating than President Trump’s intransigence is the way he seems amenable to these compromises before completely switching positions and backing off. Negotiating with President Trump is like negotiating with Jell-O,” Schumer said Saturday.

Some congressional Republicans have been open to negotiating on just a DACA solution, while others, like President Trump, want it tied to broader border security efforts, like building a wall on the southern border.

“We want to move from a system based on family relations to one based on skills and merit for what the economy needs — perfectly common sense,” said House Speaker Ryan on Sunday. “Here’s the issue, if we simply did DACA without incumbent reforms then we’d have a DACA problem five years down the road. We want to fix the problem and the root cause of the problem.”

Democrats say Schumer offered border security compromises in his meeting on Friday with the President, including potential funding for the wall, which Trump seemed initially receptive to. The White House then called just hours later, Democrats say, to kill the negotiations.

Remaining in D.C. because of the shutdown, Trump has had no public appearances or interviews.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., scheduled an early Monday morning vote for a short-term funding plan to keep the government open through Feb. 8. Aside from lasting three weeks instead of four, the bill is virtually identical to the measure that failed very early Saturday to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster just as the midnight deadline to avoid a shutdown passed.

In the House, Republicans approved a procedural measure that will allow GOP leaders to speedily bring a new stopgap measure to the floor if a new spending agreement is reached.

No meaningful votes are likely to take place on Sunday, so lawmakers will likely continue making their cases to the American public via the Sunday talk shows and social media.

NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis contributed to this story.

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