DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Federal government remains partially shut down this morning. A quarter of the government - that's about 800,000 federal workers - are impacted by this. Just a quick reminder of how we got to this point - President Trump and his allies in the House have been demanding $5 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border as part of any budget deal. Democrats have said no to this. The president, of course, said at one point that he would be proud to shut down the government over this demand. So now we have 380,000 federal employees on furlough. Another 420,000 are working without pay. This is according to information prepared by Democrats on the Senate appropriations committee. It is seeming more and more likely now that this shutdown is going to stretch into the new year. NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe has been following this and joins us this morning. Ayesha.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: All right. So lawmakers are, like, not in town or on recess through the Christmas holiday, right? So, I mean, are there any negotiations or talks happening?
RASCOE: There have been some talks going on, but it doesn't seem like they're really making much progress. Mick Mulvaney, the budget director and acting White House chief of staff, he kind of summed up the state of play. And he did not sound too optimistic. Here he is on NBC's "Meet The Press" yesterday morning.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")
MICK MULVANEY: It's very possible that this shutdown will go beyond the 28 and into the new Congress.
RASCOE: So it does seem like there may be some room for negotiation, at least on the amount of money. Like, the White House may be able to come down on their $5 billion ask, and the Democrats might approve a bit more than the $1.6 billion they offered before. But the main holdup is on what the money will be spent on. At this point, Democrats are saying they won't give any money for a wall. Steel slats, fence, whatever you call it, they don't want it. And they don't want to pay for it, but that is exactly what the White House is demanding. So that's kind of the sticking point.
GREENE: And this has always been one of the big sticking points since the president brought this up during the campaign. Like, what exactly does he mean by a, quote-unquote, "wall." So we should say this whole fight comes at, I mean, an interesting moment. We've had all these departures from the Trump administration. You know, some leaving sooner than we expected. So there's just this whole air of uncertainty right now in Washington.
RASCOE: Yeah. And, as you know, last week, Defense Secretary James Mattis - he resigned over President Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. He was supposed to stay in his position through the end of February to kind of help ensure a smooth transition. But yesterday Trump announced via Twitter that Patrick Shanahan, Mattis's deputy, will become the acting defense secretary as of January 1. And at the same time, you have Brett McGurk, who was the U.S. envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS, also reportedly resigning over Trump's Syria decision.
GREENE: OK. So we have an acting defense secretary. We also have an acting attorney general. We also have an acting White House chief of staff. We also have an acting interior secretary. What does this mean looking into 2019? Like, is it just going to be a calendar full of confirmation battles?
RASCOE: It will be a calendar full of confirmation battles. It's not clear how hard it will be to get people in place because Republicans did gain two seats in the Senate in midterms. But it's going to take a lot of time, a lot of resources and attention focused on just kind of getting officials into position. And that's time where big parts of the administration will be without permanent leadership and kind of in limbo.
GREENE: And one other cabinet secretary to bring up - Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin released this sort of unexpected statement about conversations he's been having with the heads of all the big banks in the United States. Is that normal? What is this?
RASCOE: Well, so he released a statement that he talked to executives and confirmed that they have plenty of liquidity to continue lending to consumers. The issue with that is that people hadn't really been questioning whether there was liquidity. So...
GREENE: It was answering a question that wasn't being asked.
RASCOE: Yes. But what people had been concerned about was this idea - there were reports that President Trump was maybe thinking of trying to get rid of or trying to demote Fed Chairman Jerome Powell. And that had been stirring concerns. So Mnuchin released this tweet to kind of try to tamp down those concerns. But he didn't mention Powell, which kind of just raised more questions than answers.
GREENE: NPR's Ayesha Rascoe. Ayesha, thanks a lot.
RASCOE: Thank you.
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