With the clock running out on a continuing resolution funding multiple agencies, the White House and the Congress appear to be edging toward a deal -- but a lot can still go wrong.
The odds of a Friday government shutdown increased over the weekend as lawmakers broke off talks over a plan to fund about one quarter of the government for the rest of fiscal year 2019.
Without an appropriations package or another continuing resolution, nine cabinet agencies and several key independent agencies will have to shut down again at midnight on Feb. 15, just as they're recovering from a 35-day shutdown that started Dec. 22 of last year.
At issue again is funding for a proposed border wall sought by President Donald Trump. His acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, hit the Sunday talk show circuit to remind viewers that another shutdown could be in the offing.
On NBC's Meet the Press, Mulvaney said, "you cannot take a shutdown off the table," adding that he expected to get some of the $5.7 billion Trump is seeking for border security and tap other spending accounts to make up some of the difference.
"I will say 50-50 we get a deal," in the next 24 hours, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said on Fox News Sunday. "I think the talks are stalled right now," he added. "I'm hoping we can get off the dime later today or in the morning because time is ticking away."
While the deadline for a shutdown is midnight on Friday, getting an agreement in place soon is critical for a number of procedural hurdles to be cleared in Congress, without needing to pass a short-term continuing resolution.
Currently, negotiators are hung up on a cap on the number of detention beds Immigration and Customs Enforcement can fill without seeking further approval from Congress. This cap covers unauthorized immigrants detained in the U.S. interior, not those picked up at the border.
"A cap on ICE detention beds will force the Trump administration to prioritize deportation for criminals and people who pose real security threats, not law-abiding immigrants who are contributing to our country," said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), chair of the Homeland Security subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), also an appropriator and a member of the conference group looking to pass a funding bill, said he thought a shutdown could be avoided.
"Is it a done deal? No, it isn't, and we could end up in a train wreck," Tester said on Fox News Sunday. "It's happened before. But I don't think anybody has an appetite for government shutdown and I think everybody wants to make sure borders are secured."
Shelby also is looking to avoid a shutdown.
"Well, shutting down the government should always be off the table," he said. "We would like of it to be off the table. We've worked hard to fund the government. We're going to continue to work hard in these negotiations. But the specter of a shutdown is always out there."
An end to career White House staff?
The White House is nearing the end of an investigation into the source of more three months' of presidential schedules leaked to Axios, Mulvaney said on Fox News Sunday Feb. 10.
"We're going to find the person or persons, and it's likely going to be a career staffer," Mulvaney said. "You're going to learn a lot about how hard it is to fire federal workers."
The schedules were distributed to about 400 individuals and did not contain much in the way of confidential information, according to Mulvaney. The acting chief of staff also dismissed the inference that the large swathes of "executive time" on the schedule was not time Trump spent working.
Mulvaney also suggested that he could do without the career staffers in the White House.
The leak, he said, "shed light on the fact that many people who work for us weren't hired for us. It would be like [California Democrat] Maxine Waters taking over the Financial Services Committee in the House and having to keep [Texas Republican's] Jeb Hensarling's staff. We need civil service reform so the president can trust everyone working for him and we're not there right now."