AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
As of midnight tonight, the current partial government shutdown will be the longest in U.S. history. At the heart of it is a fight over whether to fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Democrats are refusing, and President Trump is refusing to reopen the government until they do. He's been talking about declaring a national emergency to go around Congress and fund the wall. But today, Trump took his foot off the gas on that one.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Now, the easy solution is for me to call a national emergency. I could do that very quickly. I have the absolute right to do it. But I'm not going to do it so fast because this is something Congress should do. And we're waiting for the Democrats to vote. They should come back and vote.
CORNISH: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith was in the room for that. She joins us now. Hey there, Tam.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.
CORNISH: So why is the president backing away from an emergency declaration?
KEITH: Yeah. You know, it had seemed like he was headed directly for the emergency declaration, that he was almost in a hurry to do it. And then, earlier today, he met with Senator Lindsey Graham, who is a close ally of his. Graham came out of that meeting and said, Mr. President, declare a national emergency now. Build a wall now. That was a statement from Graham. So we all went into this meeting thinking the president was well on his way to making this emergency declaration.
But instead, he said that it's not something he's looking to do right now. Asked why, he raised the specter of legal challenges. He said that he feels like he's on totally solid ground. But he pointed out what happened with the travel ban early in his administration, where it got hung up in various legal challenges and went to multiple levels of appeal. And he said that he would rather just have Congress do this. He said it could be done in 15 minutes. I'm not sure anybody agrees that it could be done in 15 minutes.
CORNISH: Can you bring us up to date on negotiations?
KEITH: Right. So negotiations are not happening as far as we can tell. I asked a White House official about negotiations. He said I should go talk to Democrats in Congress. And the House and the Senate left for the day earlier today. They left for the weekend. They won't be back until Monday. So we are guaranteed that this will be the longest government shutdown in U.S. history and counting.
CORNISH: Before they left, they did take some action, right? What happened?
KEITH: They did. They passed legislation to provide backpay for federal workers. Today is the first day that a lot of workers are missing out on paychecks. Eight hundred thousand or so federal workers are affected by this. Some are working without pay. Some are not working at all and also not getting paid. The president weighed in on this bill that was passed and says that he will sign it. So that means that once this thing finally ends, and the government reopens - and we have no idea when that will be - those federal employees will get backpay for the time that the government was shut down.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Tamara Keith. Thank you.
KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.