DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The partial government shutdown is now into its 26th day. And this is largely a story of what has not been happening. Museums have not been opening their doors. Hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors are not getting paid, and many of them are not getting to go to work. As for negotiations between President Trump and Democrats, well, even those don't seem to be happening. Joining us is NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley.
Hi there, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.
GREENE: All right. So President Trump invited lawmakers to the White House yesterday. It sounds like Democrats were just not interested in coming.
HORSLEY: Well, that's right, David. The Democrats who were invited were not leaders like Nancy Pelosi or Steny Hoyer but rather rank-and-file lawmakers from around the country. The president was looking to drive a wedge within the party and maybe expose some cracks in what has so far been a pretty united front. It didn't work. Not a single Democrat showed up for what the White House called a working lunch - and not because they were afraid they might get served fast food leftovers. This is New York...
GREENE: (Laughter) Which the president served this week to some athletes - but yeah.
HORSLEY: (Laughter) That's right. This is New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, who is the Democratic caucus chairman.
HAKEEM JEFFRIES: The question that I think everyone can reasonably ask is, is he inviting people to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to really try to resolve this problem or to create a photo op so he can project a false sense of bipartisanship?
HORSLEY: So hold the Democrats. Hold the photo op. The president's special order did not come through. President Trump wound up dining with a bunch of House Republicans. And David, probably few parties will have less to say about ending the shutdown than House Republicans.
GREENE: Well, I mean, the president seems pretty dug in here. The Democrats sound dug in. I mean, listening to the voice there, I mean, questioning the president's motives. But you have Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer floating the name of one person who he said could actually help break this gridlock. It's Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, which makes me wonder - where is McConnell in all this?
HORSLEY: Where is Mitch McConnell?
HORSLEY: He's been largely invisible, but he is playing a critical behind-the-scenes role in extending this shutdown. He has refused to allow a vote on any spending bill that is not pre-approved by the president. You know, the Democratic-controlled House has been passing spending bills that would reopen the parts of the government that are closed but without wall funding, bills similar to those that already cleared the Senate late last year. But McConnell has said he won't bring them to the floor even though there are a handful of Republican senators who say they'd be OK with reopening the government under those conditions. So McConnell is, in effect, running interference for the White House here.
GREENE: Well, speaking of the impact of all this - I mean, this is Day 26, as we said - tax season is coming. The president knows how unpopular it would probably be for Americans to not get their tax returns because of this shutdown, so the administration's bringing back tens of thousands of employees at the IRS. But are they going to get paid for coming back to work?
HORSLEY: No, they're not. Forty-six-thousand IRS employees are going back to work today, more than half of the agency's workforce. They are not being paid. And as you say, their assignment is to process tax refunds so those are not delayed by the shutdown. That's a departure from the way earlier administrations have handled this, when they've concluded you can't pay refunds while the Treasury Department is closed. And on the one hand, it's good for taxpayers, who will not have to wait indefinitely for their refund checks. On the other hand, it's one more way to extend the shutdown on the backs of unpaid federal workers.
This reminds me, David, a little bit of an old "Star Trek" episode where the...
HORSLEY: ...The crew of the Enterprise shows up at this planet where the inhabitants have been at war for a really long time. And they have sanitized the war so there's no real incentive for them to end it. The administration has tried to sanitize this shutdown so there's less pressure on lawmakers, less pressure on the president. But of course, it's those unpaid federal workers who are shouldering a lot of the load.
GREENE: Yeah, it really sounds that way. All right. NPR's Scott Horsley updating us on the shutdown that goes on with no end in sight.
HORSLEY: Good to be with you, David.
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