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Government Shutdown: The Latest


We're going to start by telling you what we know about the partial government shutdown that started at midnight Friday. To recap, President Trump and his allies in the House are demanding $5 billion for a wall along the southern U.S. border as part of any budget deal. Democrats won't agree to that. And now, just before Christmas, 380,000 federal workers are on furlough, another 420,000 are working without pay, and thousands of contractors from janitors to security guards could lose wages. There were some discussions over the weekend, but those don't seem to be bearing fruit just yet.

NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is with us to tell us more. Tam, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us once again.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Glad to be with you.

MARTIN: So are there any negotiations going on? Is there any progress being made?

KEITH: Well, what we're told is that conversations are continuing but progress not so much. Mick Mulvaney - who is the budget director but he is also the acting chief of staff - was on FOX this morning.


MICK MULVANEY: It's very possible that the shutdown will go beyond the 28 and into the new Congress.

KEITH: Right. The House and Senate are out until the 27 at least. And they may not even show up then if there isn't a deal by then.

MARTIN: It seems that both sides have made very stark statements that don't seem to offer any place for a compromise. The president says it's $5 billion for a wall, or he says it could be a fence or slats or something like that. And the - Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer basically said, you're never going to get that. So what is it that they're talking about?

KEITH: So I think where the room is is that the White House is willing to come down, and Democrats are willing to come up on the dollar amount. The problem, though, is what that money gets spent on because Democrats are holding firm and saying no wall, no fence. Whatever you want to call it, no physical barrier, you know? They want to spend it on technology or personnel or other things to secure the border. And President Trump says, all those other things are nice and fun and all - this was in a tweet - but it has to be a good old-fashioned wall.

MARTIN: Now, with all of this, I still don't want to gloss past the fact that, just this past Thursday, Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned over President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. Another high-ranking U.S. official also has resigned. And, today, the president announced via Twitter that Patrick Shanahan will be the acting defense secretary as of January 1. General Mattis had wanted to stay through the end of February. What about that new date? Is there something to that?

KEITH: Well, what I've been told from a White House official is that the general thinking of the White House is why drag out a transition when it's clear that he and Mattis don't see eye-to-eye on foreign policy and on the way the government should be run. Why keep him around when the president believes that Patrick Shanahan would be a perfectly good interim head of the Department of Defense? The other person you mentioned who is leaving is Brett McGurk, who is the U.S. envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS. He's resigning as well, also, over this Syria decision.

MARTIN: To that end, though, Tam, you've been tracking the turnover in the administration. As of now, we have an acting attorney general, an acting chief of staff, an acting interior secretary and now a soon-to-be acting defense secretary. What does that say?

KEITH: Partially, what it says is that there are a lot of people that the president brought into the government who don't agree with him on policy or must've thought that he would do something different than he ultimately did. But President Trump is the person who ran for president. He is the one who is elected. And he seems to like having a revolving door. He tweeted earlier this year that chaos doesn't exist. It's just a smooth-running machine with changing parts. There are lots of changing parts.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Tam, thank you.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.