WASHINGTON — President Trump, hours after making a direct televised appeal to the nation, is facing growing uneasiness within his party that threatens to undercut his use of a prolonged government shutdown to pressure Democrats in Congress to pay for his long-promised border wall.
As the cracks in Republican unity spread, Mr. Trump was to visit Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a lunchtime meeting with Senate Republicans designed to shore up support for his position. It could also expose still more unease among Republican moderates, and even among some conservatives restive about the mounting costs of a partial shutdown in Day 19.
“We can walk and chew gum at the same time here,” Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, told reporters Tuesday, indicating that she was in favor of the solution that Democrats have proposed: passing a stopgap spending measure for border security while the debate continues, and a longer-term package to fund the rest of the government through September.
She followed up on Wednesday, saying she had warned Mr. McConnell last month of her misgivings about keeping the government shuttered but had wanted to give bipartisan negotiations to resolve the impasse time to progress.
“There is a greater sense of urgency about where we are, and so you heard me express my concerns” publicly, Ms. Murkowski said. “I’m going to share my concerns with the president and the conference” Wednesday afternoon, she said. “I think they know where I’m coming from.”
Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, who chairs the appropriations subcommittee on Homeland Security, said Tuesday that she could potentially support that approach, as well.
“I mean, I think I could live with that,” Ms. Capito said. She said she expected pressure from federal employees and voters in her state would only mount the longer the impasse drags on. “I’ve expressed more than a few times the frustrations with a government shutdown and how useless it is, so that pressure’s going to build,” she said.
Two other Republicans up for re-election in Democratic states in 2020, Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine, have already called for votes to end the shutdown without resolving Mr. Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for a physical border barrier. And despite repeated lobbying by Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials, a handful of moderate Republicans in the House already voted with Democrats to reopen the government and will likely vote Wednesday afternoon for a measure to reopen the Treasury Department, Internal Revenue Service and other financial agencies.
But misgivings are now appearing where they would not seem obvious. Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican who has announced his retirement next year, lamented that government shutdowns “never work” and turn federal workers into “pawns.” Though they had not reached a point of direct intervention yet, he said, “we’re getting pretty close.”
It remained to be seen whether those cracks would crumble the president’s support, particularly after Mr. Trump used his first prime-time Oval Office address on Tuesday to try to build public support for his position by portraying the conditions on the border as a crisis. Democrats, he asserted, were hypocritically blocking border security and putting the country at risk. Both sides were expected to sit down again later Wednesday afternoon at the White House to pick up what have been basically fruitless negotiations so far.
Democrats, who are confident Mr. Trump is taking the brunt of the blame for the impasse, showed little evidence of capitulation.
The House vote on an individual spending bill is the first of several this week that are intended to pick off uneasy Republicans by reopening closed departments one at a time. And in the Senate, Democrats had managed to grind unrelated foreign policy legislation to a halt in an effort to ramp up pressure on Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, to relent on his insistence that he will not put any bill to reopen the government up for a vote there without Mr. Trump’s support.
So far, Mr. McConnell and Senate Republicans have shielded Mr. Trump from having to veto legislations to reopen the government. But if discomfort within the conference spreads, and there is growing evidence the shutdown’s costs could imperil the party’s political chances, Mr. McConnell could come under increased pressure to enter the fray and pressure the president toward a faster resolution.
But on Wednesday, Mr. McConnell continued publicly to insist that the dispute was for Democrats and the president to solve. He has largely absented himself from negotiations, a position that appeared to be validated on Tuesday by a Politico and Morning Consult poll that found only 5 percent of respondents blamed congressional Republicans for the impasse, compared to 47 percent who blamed Mr. Trump and 33 percent who blamed congressional Democrats.
“I cannot urge my Democratic colleagues more strongly to get past this purely partisan spite, rediscover their own past positions on border security, and negotiate a fair solution with our president to secure our nation and reopen all of the federal government,” Mr. McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor.