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Shutdown talks end with more finger-pointing, no agreement

House Speaker John Boehner talks with White House press after meeting with President Obama and congressional leaders Wednesday. Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Before they walked in, the White House made clear there would be no negotiating on a central point. And when they walked out, there were no deals in hand.

Welcome to day three of your government shutdown.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met Wednesday night for less than 90 minutes with the cast of congressional characters who could end the fiscal stalemate: House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

The Morning Line

Boehner spoke to reporters gathered outside the West Wing, and called for “a serious discussion” about resolving entrenched differences.

“We had a nice conversation, a polite conversation, but at some point we’ve got to allow the process that our founders gave us to work out,” the Ohio Republican said. “All we’re asking for here is a discussion, and fairness for the American people under Obamacare.”

Boehner complained: “They will not negotiate.”

Reid affirmed that position: “We are locked in tight on Obamacare.” The Nevada Democrat described Mr. Obama as “strong, strong, strong,” and excoriated tea party lawmakers and Sen. Ted Cruz while standing within arm’s distance of Boehner.

“It looks like these people are headed where they want to go,” Reid said.

Pelosi also complained about the tea party. Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

“I can only conclude they wanted to shut down the government,” she said. “That’s not what our Constitution had in mind, that if you don’t like something you threaten to shut down government.”

McConnell didn’t speak, though he told CNBC later the meeting “was cordial but unproductive,” and that a clean debt-ceiling bill was “unacceptable.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney tipped off little details in a statement issued shortly after the leaders headed back down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Carney said Mr. Obama was “glad” for a “useful discussion,” but that the president “made clear to the leaders that he is not going to negotiate over the need for Congress to act to reopen the government or to raise the debt limit to pay the bills Congress has already incurred.”

More from the statement:

The President reinforced his view that the House should put the clean government funding bill that has been passed by the Senate up for a vote – a bill that would pass a majority of the House with bipartisan support. The House could act today to reopen the government and stop the harm this shutdown is causing to the economy and families across the country. The President remains hopeful that common sense will prevail, and that Congress will not only do its job to reopen the government, but also act to pay the bills it has racked up and spare the nation from a devastating default.

A Boehner aide told reporters no congressional staff was included in the meeting, which could be one reason there have been no leaks (so far) about what was said.

Before the meeting began, the leaders had some bitter back-and-forth about what they aimed to accomplish. No talks are publicly on the calendar today.

House lawmakers did pass a handful of small funding measures on a second attempt, including for national parks, the National Institutes of Health and operations in the District of Columbia. Republicans are expected to call for votes Thursday on proposals to finance veterans’ programs and salaries for National Guard members.

The White House announced Wednesday the president would veto the more limited spending measures, asserting the handling of appropriations “in a piecemeal fashion is not a serious or responsible way to run the United States Government.”

Reid has accused Republicans of “cherry picking the few parts of the government they like,” and has urged GOP lawmakers to instead take up the Senate’s six-week funding plan.

GOP lawmakers also defeated an attempt by House Democrats to have a vote on a temporary spending bill that could have revealed divisions among Republican ranks on how to resolve the deadlock. According to a Washington Post whip count, nearly 20 House Republicans support a “clean” funding measure.

Following the votes, Boehner said Republicans would continue to take steps to open parts of the government. “There’s nothing ‘piecemeal’ about making sure Americans have access to all of their national parks, or continuing life-saving cancer research,” he said in a statement. “Instead of threatening to veto these bills as part of a scorched-earth strategy, the president should back them just as he did our military pay bill.”

The NewsHour summed up the day’s events in the segment you can watch here or below:

Roll Call’s Matt Fuller reported on a series of meetings the moderate GOP lawmakers have been having with Boehner in an attempt to force his hand. And don’t miss Shira T. Center’s Roll Call profile of Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., among the voices calling for a clean vote. “I don’t govern out of fear,” he told her.

The Washington Post’s Paul Kane took a look at Boehner’s leadership. Here’s one section of the piece that stands out as the speaker considers what moderates are asking:

Boehner’s hard line has been surprising to friends as well as foes, especially the conservatives — as many as two dozen of whom once plotted to overthrow him as speaker.

“We’re more united in the conference now than we’ve ever been,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.), a second-term lawmaker. Eighteen months ago, the speaker “couldn’t pick me out of a lineup,” Farenthold said. “He now blows me kisses.”

The blown kiss is one of the speaker’s trademark gestures, delivered to allies and journalists alike with the same sentiment of snapping a towel in a locker room.

Mr. Obama Thursday will keep up his criticism of House Republicans in a speech about the economic impact of the shutdown at a suburban Maryland construction company.

As the standoff drags on, the odds of the conflict merging with the likely battle over lifting the debt ceiling continue to rise.

The Washington Post’s Zachary Goldfarb examines the options being considered by Republicans:

On Wednesday, there was growing realization on both sides of the aisle that lawmakers will likely have to deal with resolving the debt ceiling issue at the same time as the government shutdown. Some senior Republicans said they are ready to enter a more far-reaching discussion over entitlement programs, tax reform and the federal debt limit.

“I think we’re at a point where we need a broader solution here to not only the [temporary funding measure] but also the debt limit,” said Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. “It’s right around the corner. I think they’re both going to have to get addressed.”

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) agreed. “The president should start negotiating,” he said. “I’d like to just get one agreement” to reopen the government and raise the debt limit “and be done with it.”

Politico’s Mike Allen reported in Playbook Thursday morning that the Treasury Department will release a report at 10 a.m. intended “to pressure House Republicans to vote to raise the debt ceiling before the deadline of Oct. 17.” It details potential “catastrophic” results of failing to do so.

(The NewsHour on Wednesday examined the economic effects of the shutdown with Diane Swonk of Mesirow Financial and Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics for analysis and predictions.)

The president has been steadfast in his refusal to negotiate over raising the country’s borrowing limit, contending it is traditionally a “routine” exercise. That means the administration and Republicans in Congress could very well be headed for another stalemate in exactly two weeks — with the consequence then being a potential default on the country’s obligations.


  • Politico’s Manu Raju spoke with GOP senators who confronted Cruz at a meeting Wednesday about the Texas Republican’s role in the government shutdown and his strategy for ending it. One senator who was in attendance told Raju: “It was very evident to everyone in the room that Cruz doesn’t have a strategy – he never had a strategy, and could never answer a question about what the end-game was.”

  • The Washington Post is keeping a running tally of the lawmakers who will say “No” — to their paychecks while the government is shut down. But Deirdre Shesgreen of Gannett reported that because of the pay cycle and the Constitution, they’ll all get paid anyway. From the story: “[T]he House has to disburse the funds eventually. So anyone who has asked their pay be withheld during the shutdown will get their money when it’s over.”

  • With Capitol Hill offices largely emptied because of the shutdown, some lawmakers, including West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, have taken to answering the phones. Other members are giving their own tours.

  • Democrats Wednesday were highlighting a Washington Examiner quote from Rep. Marlin Stutzman about the budget standoff: “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

  • Politico details the difficulty of determining which employees are “essential.”

  • NPR’s David Welna profiles Reid.

  • After a lot of bad press, the World War II Memorial will remain open after all.

  • Montana Lt. Gov. John Walsh will run for Senate, making Democrats happy to have a high-profile candidate for the open seat after several others didn’t pan out.

  • Mr. Obama told CNBC’s John Harwood in an interview Wednesday that he is “hugely impressed” with Pope Francis.

  • In a lecture at Tufts, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said the U.S. Constitution is “not an organism.”

  • Iowa State Sen. Kent Sorensen resigned Wednesday after a probe found he “violated ethics rules by taking money from political entities connected to former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and then denying he’d done so.” The Associated Press has more details on the special investigator.

  • Democrats said that in the first 24 hours of the insurance exchange marketplaces being open for business, Healthcare.gov was visited by 4.7 million unique visitors. They said that more than 190,000 people called 800-318-2596, and more than 104,000 web chats were requested on the site.

  • The Atlantic looks at Republican governors who don’t hate the health care law, after all.

  • The latest in Hillary Clinton tea-leaves reading is a Politico story noting she had a chat with Robby Mook, who could just might possibly serve as a campaign manager for her if she runs in 2016.

  • Public Policy Polling revealed survey findings that suggest “Republicans are more likely than Democrats to believe various government-related conspiracy theories,” including that Mr. Obama is trying to take away guns and courts are attempting to implement Sharia law in the United States.

NEWSHOUR: #notjustaTVshow


Politics Desk Assistant Bridget Bowman and Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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