A splintered US Senate knocked down competing Democratic and Republican plans for ending the 34-day partial government shutdown, leaving President Donald Trump and Congress with no obvious formula for halting the longest-ever closure of federal agencies and the damage it is inflicting around the country.

In an embarrassment to Mr Trump that could weaken his position whenever negotiations get serious, the Democratic proposal got one more vote than the Republican plan.

There were six Republican defectors, including Senator Mitt Romney who has clashed periodically with the president.

There were faint signs that politicians on both sides were looking for ways to resolve their vitriolic stalemate.

But Thursday was mostly a day for both parties, in conflicting ways, to show sympathy for unpaid federal workers while yielding no ground in their fight over Mr Trump’s demand to build a border wall with Mexico.

The Senate first rejected a Republican plan reopening government through September and giving Mr Trump the 5.7 billion US dollars he’s demanded for building segments of that wall, a project that he had long promised Mexico would finance.

The 51-47 vote for the measure fell nine shy of the 60 votes needed to succeed.

Minutes later, senators voted 52-44 for a Democratic alternative that sought to open padlocked agencies through February 8 with no wall money.

That was eight votes short.

It was aimed at giving bargainers time to seek an accord while getting pay cheques to 800,000 beleaguered government workers who are a day from going unpaid for a second consecutive pay period.

Flustered politicians said the results could be a reality check that would prod the start of talks.

Throughout, the two sides have issued mutually exclusive demands that have blocked negotiations from even starting.

Mr Trump has refused to reopen government until Congress gives him the wall money, and congressional Democrats have rejected bargaining until he reopens government.

Thursday’s votes could “teach us that the leaders are going to have to get together and figure out how to resolve this”, said Senator John Thune, a Republican.

He added: “One way or another we’ve got to get out of this. This is no win for anybody.”

For now, partisan potshots flowed freely.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross of a “let them eat cake kind of attitude” after he said on television that he didn’t understand why unpaid civil servants were resorting to homeless shelters for food.

Even as Ms Pelosi offered to meet the president “anytime”, Mr Trump stood firm, tweeting, “Without a Wall it all doesn’t work…. We will not Cave!” and no meetings were scheduled.

Vice President Mike Pence attended a lunch with GOP senators before the vote and heard from politicians eager for the standoff to end, participants said.

Ms Pelosi has refused Mr Trump permission to give his State Of The Union speech in the House of Representatives until the impasse is resolved.

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