Donald Trump's portrayal of himself as an excellent dealmaker is in tatters as a US government shutdown continues to drag on.

Democrats and the majority Republicans in Congress missed a Friday deadline to reauthorise the federal government's spending, meaning most "non-essential" government services and programmes were ordered to close.

At the heart of the shutdown is a Democrat demand for Congress to protect "Dreamers," illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children, from deportation.

Democrats have accused Trump of reneging on an earlier accord to protect Dreamers and demanded he negotiate on immigration issues as part of any agreement to resume government funding.


However Republicans, who have a slim 51-49 Senate majority, have said they will not negotiate on immigration until the government is reopened.

The shutdown casts a huge shadow over Trump's first year as president and comes despite his promise to end gridlock in Washington.


Trump has written a book on the art of negotiation.

In The Art of the Deal, Trump boasted of his fickleness as a negotiator, describing it as a strategy.

During the 2016 election campaign, he repeatedly boasted about his talent for making good deals, turning it into a key rationale for his candidacy. He touted his experience in the real estate business and said he could transfer the same skills to government, ending the gridlock in Washington DC.

However, his latest attempt at a deal is a mess.

Demonstrators rally in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) outside the Capitol on Sunday. Photo / AP
Demonstrators rally in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) outside the Capitol on Sunday. Photo / AP

Republican strategist Alex Conant said the reality is that brokering deals in politics is very different to doing it in the business world.

"Negotiating in politics is a lot different than real estate," he said.

"In Washington, not everybody wants to make a deal. Trump's initial premise that politicians just needed to be prodded more to make a deal was always flawed.

"Nobody runs for Congress because they want to compromise their principles. They want to advance their agendas."

There have been four government shutdowns since 1990.

In the last one, in 2013, more than 800,000 government workers were put on temporary leave in a 16-day standoff over funding for President Obama's health care law, "Obamacare".

As a private citizen, Trump criticised Obama during that shutdown for failing to "lead" and get everyone in the same room.

Trump, who in July 2016 said, "Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it," has asserted that past government shutdowns were the fault of the person in the White House.


Republicans need to secure 60 votes in the Senate to reopen the government. That means all 51 of their own members, plus at least nine Democrats.

The Democrats are insisting that any deal include protection for the 700,000 young immigrants who may face deportation when the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program expires in March.

Republicans want to push back any talk about DACA and deal with immigration separately at a later date.

It remains unclear exactly what Trump's agenda is, particularly on immigration.

"I'm looking for something that President Trump supports. And he's not yet indicated what measure he's willing to sign. As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I would be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels," said Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, a member of Trump's own party.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer likens negotiation with Trump to negotiation with jelly. Photo / AP
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer likens negotiation with Trump to negotiation with jelly. Photo / AP

In the days since the government shutdown began, amid lawmakers' unsuccessful efforts to reach a deal, the White House has been strikingly quiet.

Dougal Robinson, research fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, said both parties were blaming each other for the shutdown.

"Immigration is the key sticking point, and it's a highly partisan issue," he said.

"Bipartisan compromise in Congress is required to reopen the US government.

"President Trump has been absent from the negotiations over the weekend – watching television and tweeting from the White House, rather than meeting with leading Republicans and Democrats in Congress to try to work out a bipartisan deal."

Robinson highlighted how Trump criticised Obama for his lack of leadership over the 2013 shutdown.

"A bipartisan group of 22 Senators is trying to cobble together an agreement," he said.

"At this stage, it is unclear if the deal will be acceptable to the whole Senate, let alone the House of Representatives."

Overnight, Trump encouraged the Senate's Republican leaders to invoke the "nuclear option" — a procedural manoeuvre to change the chamber's rules to allow passage of a budget by a simple majority of 51 votes to end the shutdown.


Leading Democrat Chuck Schumer said he and Democrats were willing to compromise, but the problem was Trump "can't take yes for an answer — that's why we're here".

"I'm willing to seal the deal, to sit and work right now with the president or anyone he designates — let's get it done," Schumer said.

House speaker Paul Ryan, on the other hand, insisted the issue didn't lie with Trump.

"You can't blame Donald Trump for the Senate Democrats shutting down the government," he said.

Schumer and his colleagues accused Trump of being an unreliable negotiating partner, saying the two sides came close to a deal on immigration several times, only to have Trump back out under pressure from the anti-immigration conservatives who advise him.

Trump has said Democrats are "far more concerned with illegal immigrants than they are with our great military or safety at our dangerous southern border".

The shutdown has created uncertainty for Army and Air Force bases' civilian employees, with almost half the 2 million civilian federal workers barred from doing their jobs.


Part of the problem, particularly according to the Democrats, is that Trump's views on immigration are unclear.

In a publicly broadcast meeting between Democrats and Republicans earlier this month, Trump said any immigration deal would need to be "a bill of love", but implied he was open to pretty much any solution.

The president indicated he would sign any bill passed by Congress, regardless of what was in it.

"You guys are going to have to come up with a solution, and I'm going to sign that solution," Trump said.

"My positions are going to be what the people in this room come up with. If they come to me with things I'm not in love with, I'm going to do it, because I respect them."

However, once cameras stopped rolling, the President's homeland security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen presented a four-page document on the Trump administration's must haves for any immigration bill including $18 billion for the border wall, the Washington Post reported.

Trump said the document didn't represent all of his positions and it caught him off guard.

In a scathing assessment, the Post call Trump an "unreliable negotiator who seems to promise one thing only to renege" later on.

"He boasts of being 'flexible' and has few core ideological convictions, yet often seems torn between his desire for a bipartisan 'win' and the pull of the nationalist populism he ran on," the Post assessment reads.

"In politics, he resembles at times an amateur jazz musician — moody and improvisational, but without the technical chops to hold a piece together."

Just hours into the shutdown Schumer was also scathing.

"Negotiating with President Trump is like negotiating with Jell-O," he said.

Trump also met with senators Richard Durbin and Lindsey Graham two days into negotiations to avoid the shutdown.

However, according to the Washington Post they found "an angry president, surrounded by hawkish immigration opponents and no longer amenable to the deal he'd praised in phone calls just hours earlier."


Then Trump reportedly called Schumer, and, after a positive conversation, invited him to a meeting at the White House in a bid to find common ground.

One person familiar with the events said the two men agreed to seek a grand deal in which Democrats would win protections for the Dreamers and Trump would get more money for a border wall and tighter security to stem illegal immigration from Mexico.

However, the deal quickly died after Trump reportedly spoke with conservative Republicans, who objected to it.

As the budget crisis hit soon afterwards, Democrats pushed for immigration to be a part of any deal keeping the government open - and Trump's confusing stance became and even bigger problem.

This isn't the first time Trump has failed to make a deal work.

Trump promised to repeal Obamacare once in office, however after several attempts to get a repeal bill through Congress, Republicans couldn't manage it and abandoned the effort.

Trump had personally lobbied members of Congress to vote for his position, without much success.