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Mitch McConnell steps into the shutdown fray

Lesley Clark and Emma Dumain, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- After weeks of keeping away from the battle over how to re-open shuttered government agencies, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday suddenly got involved, hosting a private meeting with a group of Republican senators hoping to end the impasse.

Should the shutdown continue Friday -- as it now appears likely -- the lack of funding for nine Cabinet agencies and several smaller departments would tie the 23-year-old record for the longest such closure.

Throughout the morning, senators shuttled in and out of McConnell's office. Nothing was resolved, but the talks with McConnell, known as the Senate's consummate dealmaker, were a sign GOP lawmakers were growing nervous about constituent reaction to the shutdown a day before some federal workers could find themselves without a paycheck.

"We're trying to step up and help the president, help the minority leaders get to a point to where they can negotiate," Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said of Trump and Democratic congressional leaders.

Tillis, who could face a tough re-election in 2020, told reporters that senators are talking about including other immigration issues in a package with money for Trump's border wall.

Whether the notoriously private McConnell was receptive or not was unknown: "Leader McConnell's a great leader," Tillis said. "He listens."

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Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on Wednesday night hosted the same group of senators in his Senate office. He said he was recommending to McConnell that the Senate take up Trump's budget request for $5 billion for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and hold a committee hearing. He suggested the compromise would attract Democrats by including narrow legal protections for certain undocumented immigrants.

Graham said the deal needs to be driven by the Senate, arguing that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, by rejecting Trump's call for wall money, can no longer be a factor in negotiations.

"Pelosi has dealt herself out after what she told the president, she's a non-player," Graham said. "The only hope we have now lies in the Senate."

At a meeting at the White House on Wednesday, Pelosi reportedly told Trump she would never give him money for the wall, even if the government reopened to allow for border security negotiations.

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