Analysis

How could the partial U.S. government shutdown end? 5 scenarios

The partial U.S. government shutdown is the longest in history, and the political process to end it is frozen. How long it will last is hard to say; but these are five ways it could end.

With no solution to the record impasse in sight, the 2 sides agree to blame each other

U.S. President Donald Trump looks over tables of fast food for the college football champion Clemson Tigers at the White House on Monday. Meanwhile, more than 800,000 federal employees aren't receiving their salaries during the partial government shutdown. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports/Reuters)

Nearly two weeks ago, U.S. President Donald Trump admitted telling Democrats that the partial shutdown of the U.S. government — now the longest in history — could go on for "months or even years" if they didn't agree to $5.7 billion in funding for a border wall with Mexico. 

That was Day 13 of the shutdown. It's now Day 25. And still, there's no end in sight, with the Democrats refusing to back a wall Candidate Trump promised Mexico would pay for, and Trump refusing to back down.

The only thing the two sides agree on is that the grinding shutdown is the other's fault. 

All the while, more than 800,000 federal employees aren't receiving their salaries, while watching the paralyzed political process and wondering when they will get paid.

It's anyone's guess, but here are five possible ways the impasse could be broken.

1. Trump caves

"I will build a great, great wall on our southern border and I'll have Mexico pay for that wall," was Trump's campaign promise. Funding for that structure is now at the centre of the shutdown.

Several opinion polls say a majority of Americans blame Trump and the Republicans for the dispute.

A worker walks near a prototype for Trump's border wall, as seen through the border fence between Mexico and the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico on Jan. 7. Trump doesn't want to let down his base by sacrificing his pre-eminent campaign promise to build the wall. (Jorge Duenes/Reuters)

If Trump caved on the wall, the shutdown would be over. And since it's gone on for so long, he could make the case that he did everything within his power to build it and that he only failed because of obstructionist Democrats. 

Still, it may be an unlikely scenario. Trump doesn't want to let down his base by sacrificing his pre-eminent campaign promise. And a Quinnipiac University poll shows a majority of Republicans still support the shutdown

Another sign he is unlikely to do it? Trump has already refused a potential compromise to reopen the government now while continuing negotiations on the wall. 

2. Democrats give in 

Democrats giving in to Trump's demands is perhaps the least likely scenario, especially with most Americans placing the blame on the other team. 

Democratic leaders have also repeatedly pointed out that Trump promised Mexico would pay, arguing that Congress shouldn't. It would also be difficult for Democratic leaders to agree to any wall funding without triggering the ire of influential left-wing members, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

But the longer the shutdown goes on, the more pressure there will be on both sides to end it, and even though it seems unlikely at this point, that could lead to the Democrats giving some ground. 

3. The art of the deal 

A compromise would be the most productive way out of this crisis by allowing both sides to say they won. But is it possible? 

Any deal would likely include a solution for the Dreamers, nearly one million young people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks to reporters in Washington Tuesday at the end of a day of testimony by attorney general nominee William Barr. Graham, once a foe of Trump but now an ally, has suggested a compromise on the Dreamers as a possible shutdown endgame. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

In 2017, The Trump administration ended the program that gave them status to remain but didn't come up an alternative, leaving them in limbo. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham, once a foe of Trump but now an ally, suggested a compromise on the Dreamers as a possible shutdown endgame. The hope is that such a deal would be a big enough win for the Democrats to get them to budge on wall funding. 

4. All eyes on the Senate

Several Republicans have expressed  frustration with the shutdown, with Rep. Adam Kinzinger calling it a "stupid shutdown idiocy cycle." 

All eyes, as usual, are on the Senate. If enough Republicans there defect, that could force a vote on a measure to open the government, regardless of whether it includes funding for the wall. 

Several of them have already said they would support such a bill, and an increase in that number would likely force Trump's hand.

5. Trump ups the ante 

Trump has repeatedly threatened to declare a national emergency over the situation at the border. 

Doing so would essentially allow him to divert military funds to pay for a wall, regardless of congressional approval. But it would also be met with legal challenges that would likely prevent the wall from being built, emergency declaration or not. 

There would also be criticism that what's happening at the border doesn't amount to a national emergency. And an emergency declaration wouldn't completely solve the shutdown issue; Trump and the Democrats would still need to negotiate a bill to open the closed agencies. 

It would be an unconventional move, but Trump is an unconventional president. And it would be perhaps the ultimate way of keeping a promise to a base that elected him, at least in part, due to his zero-tolerance policy on the Mexican border.

About the Author

Ellen Mauro

Ellen Mauro is a multi-platform reporter covering U.S. politics from the CBC News Washington bureau. She was previously based in London and has reported from the front lines of some of the top international news stories in recent memory.

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