By Alana Abramson
January 18, 2019

A bipartisan group of senators got involved. The president’s son-in-law and the vice president took a shot. A group that calls itself the Problem Solvers Caucus tried its hand.

But in the end, none of them were able to resolve the impasse leading to the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

As the partial government shutdown heads toward the one-month mark, it’s become clear that only two people can end it: President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And neither one is budging from their position.

Trump continues to maintain that he will only sign spending bills that include his request for $5 billion for a border wall, while Pelosi insists that any negotiations over immigration come after the government is reopened. Although he could force the issue as well, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stayed on the sidelines, making clear that he will only allow a vote on Democratic bills to do that with Trump’s approval.

In a way, the shutdown is simply the most visible manifestation of the fact that Trump has met his match with Pelosi, who commands half of a coequal branch of government and remains a formidable foe.

Meantime, the toll continues to grow. Federal workers who have missed their paychecks are applying for unemployment and food stamps. Government contractors are struggling to discern how they will pay their bills, sometimes resorting to online fundraising.

Lawmakers remain frustrated.

“The reasons that we’re in this shutdown is because both sides are unwilling to sit down and talk,” Republican Sen. Rob Portman said on the Senate floor Friday. “That makes this shutdown particularly stupid.”

Some Republicans are trying to get Trump to find a way out.

“Democrats are not going to negotiate with the government shut down. If people in the White House don’t like hearing that I don’t know what to tell them,” a visibly agitated Sen. Lindsey Graham told reporters Wednesday. “I’m running out of ideas.”

One of more Graham’s more recent ideas was to draft a a bipartisan letter to Trump urging the President Trump, urging him to re-open the government for three weeks while negotiations continue on a more permanent solution for border security. Democratic Sens. Joe Minchin and Chris Coons signed onto the effort, as did Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski.

“There’s a lot of people that want to be involved and move [negotiations] forward. But if it’s just no no and hell no, it’s hard on either side,” said Manchin. But as of Friday, that letter was in what one aide called a “holding pattern.” Senators, it appeared, seemed reluctant to sign on to a letter that would not yield anything.

“I don’t think it makes sense to arbitrarily do that until there is at least a roadmap for what we will accomplish in those 21 days,” said Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, one of the lawmakers who have been more vocal in calling for a compromise.

Officials from the White House and the House of Representatives also seemed to be making overtures. On Wednesday, seven Democratic members of the House of Representatives accepted an invitation to join the President in the Situation Room.

“I’ll work with anyone to try and end this shutdown as quickly as possible,” said Rep. Max Rose, one of the lawmakers who attended the meeting. The next day, Vice President Mike Pence and Jared Kushner met with McConnell in his office. Although attendees of both meetings remained tight-lipped about what went on, the government remains shut down.

Part of the reason all of these actions seemed so fruitless was because they failed to convene the two major players. Pelosi and Trump have not sat at the negotiating table since Jan. 8, when the President walked away.

Instead of working on a deal they have been counterpunching each other to showcase their leverage: Pelosi by essentially disinviting the President from the State of the Union, and Trump by grounding the military plane Pelosi was planning on using for a congressional delegation visit to Afghanistan. (The lawmakers were subsequently planning on flying commercial, but decided to postpone the trip after claiming the Administration had leaked the plans).

This tit-for-tat appeared to do nothing to break the impasse. If anything, it dug both sides in further. Which probably means things will get worse before they get better.

Write to Alana Abramson at Alana.Abramson@time.com.

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