Talks start as US Senate rejects two plans for ending shutdown
Senators from both sides floated a plan to reopen agencies for three weeks and pay hundreds of thousands of beleaguered federal workers.
A splintered Senate has voted down competing Democratic and Republican plans for ending the 35-day partial government shutdown in the United States.
However, the twin setbacks prompted a burst of bipartisan talks aimed at temporarily halting the longest-ever closure of federal agencies and the damage it is inflicting around the country.
In the first serious exchange in weeks, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell quickly called minority leader Chuck Schumer to his office to explore potential next steps for solving the stalemate.
Senators from both sides floated a plan to reopen agencies for three weeks and pay hundreds of thousands of beleaguered federal workers while bargainers hunt for a deal.
At the White House, President Donald Trump told reporters he would support “a reasonable agreement”.
He suggested he would also want a “prorated down payment” for his border wall with Mexico but did not describe the term.
He said he has “other alternatives” for getting wall funding, an apparent reference to his disputed claim that he could declare a national emergency and fund the wall’s construction using other programmes in the federal budget.
“At least we’re talking about it. That’s better than it was before,” Mr McConnell told reporters in one of the most encouraging statements heard since the shutdown began on December 22.
Even so, it was unclear whether the flurry would produce results.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose relationship with Mr Trump seems to sour daily, told reporters a “big” down payment would not be “a reasonable agreement”.
Asked if she knew how much money Mr Trump meant, she said: “I don’t know if he knows what he’s talking about.”
Mr Schumer’s spokesman, Justin Goodman, said Democrats have made clear “that they will not support funding for the wall, prorated or otherwise”.