Shutdown countdown muzzles White House staff, for now 

As the clock ticks toward a possible government shutdown at midnight, White House senior administration officials are lying low. 

Negotiations over the $3.5 trillion budget are so fragile that even the administration is afraid of uttering something that could tip the scale in one way or another. No briefings or gaggles are scheduled on Friday, and the White House press office seems to have as much insight as the reporters prodding them for answers.

The atmosphere is subdued – a stark contrast from the buzz of Thursday, when the networks were broadcasting budget updates from congressional leaders every couple minutes and the possibility of a shutdown seemed less imminent. On Friday, the updates were fewer and far between.

But that all could change any minute. The press office is warning the pool reporters – the hacks required to be on call and follow the president's every move – to stick close to the White House. When one pool reporter asked for permission to leave the White House grounds and grab a sandwich for lunch, he was advised to stay put. 


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