WASHINGTON — Just days before a deadline to avert a partial government shutdown, President Trump, Democratic leaders and the Republican-controlled Congress are at a stalemate over the president’s treasured border wall. But House Republican leaders are also confronting a more mundane and awkward problem: Their vanquished and retiring members are sick and tired of Washington and don’t want to show up anymore to vote.
Call it the revenge of the lame ducks. Many lawmakers, relegated to cubicles as incoming members take their offices, have been skipping votes in the weeks since House Republicans were swept from power in the midterm elections, and Republican leaders are unsure whether they will ever return.
It is perhaps a fitting end to a Congress that has showcased the untidy politics of the Trump era: Even if the president ultimately embraces a solution that avoids a shutdown, House Republican leaders do not know whether they will have the votes to pass it.
The uncertainty does not end there. With funding for parts of the government like the Department of Homeland Security set to lapse at midnight on Friday, Mr. Trump and top Republicans appear to have no definite plan to keep the doors open. It is clear that as Democrats uniformly oppose the president’s demand for $5 billion for his border wall, any bill that includes that funding cannot pass the Senate, and might face defeat in the House, too.
“That’s me with my hands up in the air,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters last week, in case there was any confusion about the meaning of the exaggerated shrug he offered when asked how the logjam might be broken. “There is no discernible plan — none that’s been disclosed.”
In the final moments of complete Republican control of government before Democrats assume the House majority in January, Republicans find themselves once again trapped between Mr. Trump’s messaging and their own political reality.
The president’s declaration in the Oval Office last week that he would be happy to take sole responsibility for a shutdown undercut Republican leaders who had hoped to blame Democrats for any unresolved spending impasse — a point that Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, reiterated Sunday morning on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“They just have to have the guts to tell President Trump he’s off on the deep end here,” Mr. Schumer said of Republican leaders, “and all he is going to get with his temper tantrum is a shutdown. He will not get a wall.”
While Mr. Trump insisted that he had the votes to push $5 billion in wall spending through the House, Republican leaders in the chamber are keenly aware that their rank-and-file members are in no mood to return to Washington days before Christmas to battle over his long-unfulfilled signature campaign promise.
In the absence of any road map, House leaders shuttered the chamber Thursday for a six-day weekend, putting lawmakers in standby mode and scheduling the next votes for Wednesday evening, two days before the shutdown deadline. (Aides cautioned that the schedule could change.)
“No one has any idea what the play call is — we don’t know what’s going on,” said Representative Ryan A. Costello, Republican of Pennsylvania, who, because he is retiring, has already surrendered his office suite for a cramped cubicle.
“You don’t have an office,” he added. “You’re in wind-down mode, saying goodbye to people and wrapping up, and just putting your voting card in the machine and pressing red or green. It’s going through the motions.”
And he’s one of the lawmakers who have actually been showing up. In recent weeks, anywhere from a handful to more than two dozen Republicans have failed to cast votes on individual bills, leaving leaders uncertain of their numbers. Some lawmakers cited personal reasons; Representative Lynn Jenkins of Kansas, following guidance given months ago that Congress would adjourn by Dec. 13, may miss votes to get married, while Representative Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, who was re-elected, is taking a leave because of illness.
Mr. Trump himself is scheduled to leave on Friday for a 16-day vacation at his Florida estate.
But even those who have no pressing commitments have grown weary of trekking to the Capitol as Congress grinds to a close. One senior Republican aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said some lawmakers no longer even wanted to see one another’s faces.
“There’s a temper to the House, and it starts to get dark by the end of the year,” said Michael Steel, a Republican strategist who was a top aide to former Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio. “Members start out very, very eager to legislate, to make progress, to refresh from the holidays, and by the end of the year, there’s a great deal of friction and tension and just built-up frustration.”
That dynamic is all the more potent for Republican leaders who have spent the last two years trying, with mixed success, to govern while skirting the unfiltered remarks and tweets of a president who cares little about the finer points of legislating, and whose agenda often diverges from their own. Now they find themselves trying to cope with the no-win situation Mr. Trump has created as he insists on building a wall supported by a minority of Americans.
“There is a great disjunction between their motives and his, and this has been a theme of this Congress,” said Norman J. Ornstein, a scholar on Congress at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. “Trump does these things without thinking about what his allies in Congress would want or need; he does it with this bluster and this narcissism; and then we end up with this farce.”
Mr. Ornstein, a sharp critic of Mr. Trump, said the president may be spoiling for a shutdown to draw attention away from his legal exposure, both in the special counsel’s investigation into his campaign’s ties with Russia and in his former lawyer’s conviction for campaign finance crimes he said were directed by Mr. Trump.
“The closer it gets to him, the more he wants a distraction and the more he wants to gin up his base, but from the perspective of Republicans, doing a shutdown while they’re still running everything just makes them look like idiots,” Mr. Ornstein said.
Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to Mr. Trump who has shaped most of his hard-line immigration policies, indicated that the president would not back down. “We’re going to do whatever is necessary to build the border wall,” Mr. Miller said on Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Asked if that meant forcing a shutdown, Mr. Miller added, “Absolutely.”
Lawmakers appeared resigned last week to the fact that the outcome of the impasse was up to Mr. Trump. “I think the president does a lot of his own negotiating, and his own thinking, and you can tell that,” said Senator Richard C. Shelby, the Alabama Republican who is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
But the odd lull with a shutdown looming was disturbing to some senators. “I don’t understand why people don’t come to work and work all the way through December when the taxpayers are paying them,” said Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, who is a former House member. “I mean, finish your job.”
After the Oval Office meeting last week between Mr. Trump and the top House and Senate Democrats, staff members for House Democrats began working on legislation that would reopen the government on Jan. 3, when they are in control, without allocating any wall spending. The measure most likely would fund the government in full for the rest of the fiscal year, according to an aide familiar with the work.
At the White House last week, after the news cameras had departed, Mr. Schumer and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the top House Democrat, raised the prospect that Ms. Pelosi could pass such legislation — and force Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, to choose between accepting a bill without wall funding and reopening the government, or keeping it closed.
“What do you think Mitch will do?” Mr. Schumer pointedly asked the president, according to a person briefed on the exchange. “Keep it shut down another month? Another week?”
Mr. Trump did not respond.
Beyond the spending impasse, however, there have been some successes in the waning days of legislative debate. After months of stalled negotiations, a huge farm bill and an overhaul of how Congress handles sexual harassment slid through both chambers and await Mr. Trump’s signature. And after intense lobbying from the White House and both parties, Mr. McConnell agreed to schedule a floor vote for a bipartisan criminal justice bill.
Some of the lawmakers who have helped negotiate the current spending bills have voiced frustration that their work — the first time in years that the two chambers had passed a number of spending bills in regular order — may be derailed in the closing moments of this year’s session.
“We have worked too hard,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska. “Let’s just get this done.”