Attention Shifts To Senate Republicans As Shutdown Drags On
As the government shutdown enters through its twenty-fourth day, attention is shifting to Senate Republicans who could be pressured to break ranks and potentially force a resolution.
As the government shutdown entered its twenty-fourth day with no end in sight, the pressure is growing on Senate Republicans to break the impasse that is preventing the Federal Government from reopening:
Twenty-four days into the longest government shutdown in U.S. history and with the White House and House Democrats no closer to a deal, pressure is ramping up on Senate Republicans to craft an exit plan that will get federal employees back to work and pull their party out of a deepening political quagmire.
In a sign that Republicans are increasingly concerned that the standoff over President Trump’s long-promised border wall is hurting their party politically, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) suggested temporarily reopening the government while continuing negotiations. If talks don’t bear fruit, Graham said Sunday, the president could consider following through on his threat to bypass Congress and build the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border by declaring a national emergency.
“I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug,” Graham said on “Fox News Sunday.” “See if we can get a deal. If we can’t at the end of three weeks, all bets are off. See if he can do it by himself through the emergency powers.”
The maneuvering by a key Trump ally highlights the difficult balancing act Senate Republicans will probably face over the next two years, trapped between a mercurial GOP president and an emboldened new House Democratic majority.
Tensions have flared inside the West Wing as negotiations have stalled. On Friday, Trump complained and used expletives about Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney in front of congressional leaders, after Mulvaney urged compromise on the administration’s demand for $5.7 billion in wall funding, said two Trump advisers familiar with the exchange who were not authorized to speak publicly.
Trump was dismayed by Mulvaney’s willingness to compromise and sharply criticized him for taking a different tone, one of the advisers said, calling it a scene “right out of ‘The Godfather.’
At the same time, Democrats ramped up calls for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to take up House-passed legislation to fund the government, regardless of whether the president agrees. McConnell, whose office insists it’s up to Democrats to make a deal, has taken a low public profile as the stalemate drags on, seemingly wary of being burned once again by Trump after the president did an abrupt about-face last month and opposed a temporary funding bill that had cleared the Senate.
So far, three Republican senators — Cory Gardner (Colo.) and Susan Collins (Maine), both running for reelection in states Trump lost in 2016, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) — have called for an immediate end to the partial shutdown even without the more than $5 billion Trump has demanded for the wall. The impasse left about 800,000 federal workers without a paycheck Friday, as lawmakers were back in their states and congressional districts.
If other senators begin feeling the heat from constituents, they could force McConnell’s hand, Republican strategist Doug Heye said. “If he has, like, three more Republican senators — whoever they may be — calling for something to be done, then that changes the calculus,” he said. “But until that happens, there is no political motivation for McConnell.”
Twenty-two Senate Republicans, including McConnell, are up for reelection in 2020, compared with only 12 Senate Democrats. But the majority of the Republican-held seats are in solid red states, where the greatest fear for GOP incumbents is a primary challenge from the right. Only a handful of Republicans are in potentially competitive races, including Collins, Gardner, Sen. Joni Ernst (Iowa), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Martha McSally (Ariz.) and David Perdue (Ga.).
Public opinion could also increase the pressure. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday said that more Americans blame Trump and Republicans in Congress for the shutdown than congressional Democrats. Fifty-three percent of respondents blame the president and Republicans, while 29 percent blame Democrats. Thirteen percent blame both equally. More Americans remain opposed to the idea of a border wall than support it, the poll found, although the margin has narrowed over the past year.
Senate Democrats are seizing the opportunity to pressure their Republican colleagues. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said that moderate Republicans who sought to broker a deal last week should make an appeal to McConnell.
“It’s time for those centrists to speak up in their own Republican Senate caucus and tell Mitch McConnell, ‘The party’s over. We want this to end, there’s no excuse for the shutdown,’ ” Durbin said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He added that “once the president realizes he’s lost the Senate Republicans, we can roll up our sleeves, open the government and get down to business.”
Another Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), raised the prospect of the Senate banding together to bypass the president and force the funding bills through. Manchin, who represents a state Trump won by more than 40 points, said in a statement Sunday that given Trump’s suggestion late last week that he does not immediately plan to issue an emergency declaration, “it’s time for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring up the House-passed appropriations bills that would finally reopen government.”
“As an equal branch of government we have the authority to override the President’s veto, if that’s what he chooses to do,” Manchin said.
The idea that the key to solving this shutdown may end up being renegade Senate Republicans who end up forcing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel to bring bills to reopen the government to the House floor isn’t a new one. Earlier this month, it was reported that several Senators who are up for re-election in 2020 were already starting to grow uneasy over the length of the shutdown and the fact that the President was seemingly unwilling to move off the insistence that any bill reopening the government include $5.7 billion for his border wall. The Senators included in this group include both moderates such as Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and conservatives such as Colorado Senator Cory Gardner and North Carolina Senator Thom Tills. Other Senators up for re-election in 2020 that could be vulnerable — such as Martha McSally in Arizona, David Perdue in Georgia, and Joni Ernst in Iowa — have not been quite so vocal publicly, but some reports have indicated that they too are growing frustrated with McConnell’s hands-off, behind the scenes While this hardly amounts to a majority of the Senate GOP Caucus, it is a sign that McConnell’s strategy of staying out of the public eye may not work going forward.
Of course, even if Senate Republicans do rebel and McConnell does start bringing the House spending bills to the floor of the Senate, that’s far from the end of the battle. If the President continues to hold to his current position that he won’t agree to any deal that does not include funding for his wall, and there’s every indication that he will continue to hold this position, then it’s entirely likely that he could veto whatever budget bill passes Congress. At that point, it would be up to Congress to override the veto and it’s by no means clear that there would be a two-thirds majority in either the House or the Senate to override a Presidential veto. At that point, we’d be right back at square one, and perhaps in worse shape, since the President could claim that he “won” a showdown with Congress and to attack the Republicans who stood against him.
In any case, this latest effort to put the focus on Senate Republicans should be a strong indication of just how badly negotiations between the White House and Democrats are going. By all accounts, there have been essentially no discussions between the principles since last week, and only minimal contact between staff members over the weekend. The Federal Government is closed in Washington today thanks to yesterday’s snowstorm, so it’s unclear if there were be any change in the status of talks until tomorrow at the earliest, and no indication that there will be any change for the foreseeable future in any case.