The US government shutdown could continue into the New Year with no clear resolution in sight, Mick Mulvaney, the new White House chief of staff, said on Sunday.
As the impasse over President Donald Trump’s demand for funding for a border wall entered its second day, Mr Mulvaney prepared the ground for a lengthy closure of federal departments.
Congress is due to reconvene on Thursday after last minute negotiations failed on Saturday, triggering Mr Trump’s decision to stay and celebrate Christmas at The White House rather than head to Mar-a-Lago as planned.
“I don’t think things are going to move very quickly here for the next couple days. … I think it’s very possible the shutdown will go beyond the 28th and into the new Congress," Mr Mulvaney told US TV.
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Insisting "the ball is in the Senate’s court", he said that the White House had moved down from its original demand for $5 billion and hoped Democrats would move up from their offer for $1.3 billion in border security funding.
But in an interview on ABC’s "This Week," he added that Mr Trump remained steadfast in his demand for wall funding.
"The President’s not going to not accept money for a border wall," he said.
Mr Mulvaney, who is also currently the director of the Office of Management and Budget, did not give specifics on the level of the "counteroffer" made by the White House.
“They were at 1.3 yesterday, we were at $5 billion a couple days ago. And the counteroffer that we gave them yesterday was between those two numbers," he said.
Meanwhile Senate Democrats, who oppose funding for the wall, contend the government could reopen immediately if Mr Trump drops his demand to extend a physical barrier along America’s southern border with Mexico – a barrier which they argue would be ineffective in halting illegal immigration.
But any suggestion of Mr Trump weakening on what was a major plank of his election strategy would infuriate his supporters, some of whom are already growing impatient.
Last week Ann Coulter, a prominent conservative figure, stopped following Mr Trump on Twitter and branded his presidency "a joke" because of the lack of progress on the much-touted border wall.
On Sunday, the president showed no sign of compromise. "The only way to stop drugs, gangs, human trafficking, criminal elements and much else from coming into our Country is with a Wall or Barrier. Drones and all of the rest are wonderful and lots of fun, but it is only a good old fashioned Wall that works!" he tweeted.
Around 800,000 federal employees are affected by the shutdown. Roughly 420,000 workers are deemed essential and were expected to work unpaid with additional 380,000 were to be furloughed, meaning they will stay home without pay.