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As the government shuts down, 'it's as bad as it looks'

The shutdown negotiations reinforced an awkward truth: there's someone in the Oval Office, but we don't have a president in any meaningful sense
(FILES) This file photo taken on October 17, 2013 shows the US Capitol building before sunrise in Washington, DC. ...

Americans have seen a few government shutdowns in recent decades, but they've never seen one when one party controls all of Congress and the White House.

The fact that the latest shutdown happened on the anniversary of Donald Trump's inauguration is a little on the nose for my tastes, but clearly, the political gods are not without a sense of humor.

It's entirely possible that the current shutdown, which began just nine hours ago, will be resolved fairly quickly. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Capitol Hill this afternoon, at which point they'll begin work anew on an agreement that will need bipartisan support. Several senators suggested overnight that a deal was near, so it's at least possible that this won't be a prolonged breakdown.

But while we wait for that work to continue, it's worth pausing to appreciate some of the circumstances that led to last night's failure. NBC News' report touched on a detail that stood out for me after Trump met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the White House yesterday:

Schumer presented a proposal to break the logjam to Trump in a mid-day meeting over cheeseburgers at the White House, according to multiple Democrats -- a plan to fund the government over the next two years, including money for disaster aid, the low-income children's health insurance program, opioid funding, border security and relief for those Dreamers covered by DACA."I even put the border wall on the table," Schumer said.But when Schumer left the meeting, the concept started to unravel when McConnell and Trump's chief-of-staff John Kelly opposed it, according to a person familiar with the situation.

MSNBC's Kasie Hunt added that it was Kelly who called Schumer after the meeting, telling the senator that the framework Schumer and Trump agreed to wasn't far enough to the right.

And if these details sound ridiculous, there's a very good reason for that. It suggests we have a person in the office of the presidency, but we don't have a president in any meaningful sense.

Democrats and Republicans don't agree on much, but both parties agreed that Trump would have to help guide the process. Indeed, GOP officials have spent much of the last week trying to figure out what, exactly, the president's position really is -- and their efforts haven't gone especially well.

Democrats, meanwhile, keep working from the assumption that they should try to negotiate with the president, but as we saw yesterday, when Schumer sketched out a framework with Trump to avert a shutdown, it was Trump's aide who said that framework fell short of Republican demands.

All of which suggests there's no longer any point to trying to strike deals with Trump on anything, ever. As Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) put it the other day, "We don't have a reliable partner at the White House to negotiate with."

Consider just some of the key events since the president rescinded DACA, touched off a crisis, and called for a bipartisan solution:

* Trump struck a deal with Democratic leaders in the fall, which he soon after abandoned.

* Trump briefly endorsed a Democratic senator's request for a clean DACA bill, before someone reminded him what his position was supposed to be.

* Trump briefly endorsed a bipartisan immigration plan, crafted by Graham and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), before GOP hardliners told him to reject it.

* Trump supported, then opposed, then supported again the House Republican stopgap spending measure intended to prevent a shutdown.

* Trump and Schumer outlined a framework on immigration, which the White House chief of staff helped reject.

Presidential historian Jon Meacham, reflecting on the developments, said, "[T]his is what government would look like without a president."

Sen. Brian Schatz‏ (D-Hawaii) added, "I've never seen such a flawed negotiation. No one is in charge.... It's as bad as it looks."