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Why this government shutdown represents a ‘historic first’

It's day 12 of the partial government shutdown. President Trump met with congressional leaders Wednesday afternoon, the day before Democrats take control of the House, to reiterate that affected government agencies would remain closed as long as it takes to deliver the border wall funding he wants. For more on the significance of this unprecedented shutdown, Judy Woodruff talks to Lisa Desjardins.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    From President Trump today, a new warning. He says the partial government shutdown will last as long as it takes to get funding for a southern border wall.

    Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins begins our coverage.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Public trash cans spilling onto national parks, as the government shutdown spills into its 12th day. National Park Services can't clean up the mess until Congress and the president reach a spending deal.

    President Donald Trump started the day meeting with his Cabinet and indicating no change in his demand from Democrats.

  • Donald Trump:

    It's too important to subject to walk away from. As long as it takes. I mean, look, I'm prepared. I think the people of the country think I'm right.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Hours later, he hosted a meeting with top congressional leaders, including Democrats, in the White House Situation Room. Afterward, it was clear they are not changing their proposals either.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.:

    We want strong border security. We believe ours are better. But to use the shutdown as hostage, which they had no argument against, is wrong.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Congressman Kevin McCarthy, who will be the top Republican in the House starting tomorrow, told reporters the group of leaders will next meet Friday, this as the effects of the partial shutdown widen.

    Today, Smithsonian Museums locked their doors and furloughed workers after burning through surplus funding that had allowed them to stay open for nearly two weeks. Disappointed visitors were left in the cold.

  • Man:

    Amazing. It's closed.

  • Nikolas Skar:

    We knew about the shutdown, but we thought it might be open even today. Yes, it's a disappointment. Of course it is.

  • Judith Rivette:

    Not necessary, really just all about posturing. And this could be worked on a whole different way. Sensible minds will prevail eventually, we like to think.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The next move is expected from Democrats, who will take over the House of Representatives tomorrow. Within hours, they are expected to try a new tack, isolating the wall issue by passing one bill dealing with the border security fight. A separate bill would reopen every other currently shuttered agency.

    But neither of those spending bills includes money for the wall, a position the White House said in a statement yesterday was a nonstarter.

    The president wants up to $5 billion for a wall or steel slat fence at the border. The Democrats now offer $1.3 billion for border fencing, and another $300 million for other security installments.

    Meanwhile, at the quiet Capitol, on the last full day of the outgoing Congress, Senate Chaplain Barry Black opened with an unusually blunt prayer.

  • Barry Black:

    Rise mercifully upon our darkened hearts, and deliver us from the trench warfare of yet another government shutdown.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Each day of the shutdown, stakes and political pressure rise, with 800,000 federal employees unsure if they will get their next paycheck.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Lisa is here now with more.

    So, so we just heard the chaplain say it, trench warfare.

    And, Lisa, in your report, you laid out where things stand. What exactly are Democrats trying to do tomorrow?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, I think they're trying to test the president's resolve. And they're trying to again say he's responsible for a shutdown.

    What they're doing is going to pass one bill that would fund most of the government that is shut down, and that would put almost 500,000 federal workers back to work immediately for the rest of the year. Then a separate bill would fund the Department of Homeland Security only for about a month.

    Democrats say that that would allow for time to debate whether wall money should happen or not. The president has not signaled that he would support this at all. And we just got this readout from Democrats who say they're familiar with the meeting that Chuck Schumer asked repeatedly if the president would support this bill to allow most of government to reopen.

    And the president said to them, "I would look foolish if I did that."

    We haven't gotten a response from the White House yet. But this is what Democrats say happened in the meeting.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I talked a little while ago, taped an interview with the White House communications director, who said they wouldn't go along with that. But we will hear that.

    So what is the sense of whether a breakthrough, when a breakthrough could even be possible.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Next week is going to be key as to whether this could end before workers start losing pay, or if it's going to be a long one.

    Unfortunately, Judy, the sense I get from top Republicans and Democrats at Congress is that they think both sides are digging in, they think this could last quite a long, quite a few more days, if not more weeks, and we're hearing those words weeks now from some of our leaders.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so at this point, we saw who's being affected to some extent, but when are more government employees going to be affected? Where are they? Who are they?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I think a key day to watch is January 8, or about a week from now. That is the day on which most of these affected agencies, right around that day, they each have a different one, they have to notify payroll.

    And if they don't have funding by that day, around a week from now, that next paycheck, which is due in two Fridays, will be delayed or frozen. So that is where the pressure can mount on Congress. About a week from now, we will know if workers will get their pay or not.

    Now, those are those who are federal workers. Contractors, Judy, as we have been reporting, have already been affected by this, some of them losing their pay, and a lot of them very nervous. Also, Judy, one thing to remember, this is hitting federal workers even harder now, because their medical deductibles are restarting now.

    So anyone with medical expenses start back at zero, with thousands of dollars of medical costs, and no paycheck right now.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot of people familiar with having to — having to think about that.

    The other thing, Lisa, all this is happening in the middle of a transfer of power, the House of Representatives going from Republican to Democratic control.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's fascinating.

    This is a historic first. We have never had a shutdown in between Congresses, much less in between a transfer of power like this. And I think we are seeing that this is lengthening this shutdown because the two sides are testing each other.

    Rather than beginning by working with each other, this is a show of power, basically a game of chicken between Democrats and the Republican president.

    One other thing I think lengthening this in this time is the fact that among those agencies affected, not Congress, not the White House. Congress has funded itself, all of its staff fully paid, the same for the White House. And by law, Cabinet officers and anyone appointed by the White House, they are paid during a shutdown.

    So as much as they control what happens to federal workers, none of the workers directly under them are affected.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I wonder what the public thinks about all that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I think I can guess.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will continue our look at the shutdown.

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