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.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Congress, Deficit and Debt, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    Hard to negotiate when one half of the discussion doesn’t keep his agreements.

    10
  2. gVOR08 says:

    I regularly read a blog called http://ww2today.com/. Each day it posts an anecdote from this date 75 years ago. This mornings entry struck me, so at the risk of a Godwin’s violation,

    ‘Believe me! I am the greatest builder of fortications of all time. I built the West Wall; I built the Atlantic Wall. I have used so and so many tons of concrete. I know what the building of fortications (sic) involves. – Adolph Hitler, quoted by Gen. Guderian

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    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.

    Awwww, pobrecitos…. My heart really goes out to them, especially McConnell. Caught between a trump and somebody willing to fulfill their constitutional duties.

  4. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    The. Art. Of. The. Deal.
    Clearly a work of fiction.

  5. Kylopod says:

    @gVOR08:

    so at the risk of a Godwin’s violation

    In the words of Godwin himself:

    “If you’re thoughtful about it and show some real awareness of history, go ahead and refer to Hitler or Nazis when you talk about Trump.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/12/14/sure-call-trump-a-nazi-just-make-sure-you-know-what-youre-talking-about/

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    OT but the trade deficit with China? Expanding rapidly. Kinda doesn’t look like that whole trade war thing is working out for us.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I am shocked, shocked I tell you!

  8. MarkedMan says:

    There have been so many, “Huh. I wouldn’t have expected that…” moments over the past decade that I hesitate to say the following surprised me, but the Republicans, including Mitch McConnell absolute subservience to Trump, their complete abrogation of their power as a coequal branch of government, is… surprising. Not because I think professional Republicans are honorable, as they certainly are not, but because McConnell never struck me as such a toady. To strive so hard and so long to attain one of the most powerful positions in the country and then to simply let a moron like Trump dictate your every move, it just defies reason.

    Sometimes I wonder if he is allowing things to go to hell so he can use this to break Trump. And sometimes I wonder if Putin has his heels on McConnells balls too…

  9. al Ameda says:

    We all know that Mitch is waiting to hear from (de facto) President Coulter before he makes his next move.

  10. Kathy says:

    @al Ameda:

    Maybe the Democrats ought to say they will negotiate with the people acting as Trump’s brain, seeing as Trump doesn’t have any real authority to negotiate anyway.

  11. Franklin says:

    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.

    If a majority but less than 2/3rds of Congress passed a bill that the President then vetoed, that should theoretically shift public opinion to 100% blaming him in a rational world.

  12. Scott F. says:

    @MarkedMan:

    McConnell beat Grimes pretty handily in 2014, but I don’t think Kentucky is so solid that McConnell can afford to look completely like a Trump toady this next election. Almost all of the GOP Senators up for re-election in 2020 ran in a mid-term in 2014, but this time around they will be running in a Presidential election year on the same ticket as Trump himself. Rather than any coattail effect, expect Trump to be an anchor, especially if Mueller reports even some of that which everyone thinks he has proof.

    (I suspect that if Trump isn’t impeached he will run for re-election. He won’t be able to pass up the campaign rally crowds he craves and he’ll want to prolong the POTUS shield against indictment.)

  13. MarkedMan says:

    I haven’t seen anyone propose this, but what about the possibility that Trump thinks he is “winning the shutdown”? He is pretty isolated nowadays and Steve Bannon or Steven Miller or Vladimir Putin whispering in his ear about what a manly man he is for staying firm could keep us in shut down indefinitely.

  14. Teve says:

    Donald J. Trump
    Donald J. Trump
    @realDonaldTrump
    If Elizabeth Warren, often referred to by me as Pocahontas, did this commercial from Bighorn or Wounded Knee instead of her kitchen, with her husband dressed in full Indian garb, it would have been a smash!

    Dumbest POTUS in History was freaking out on Twitter last night.

  15. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    He might be that delusional. I bet in his 2020 campaign, he’ll boast about having had a longer shutdown than anyone else in history.

  16. Scott F. says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Of course he thinks he’s winning the shutdown. Who in his circle would tell him otherwise that he’d listen?

    That’s why the GOP Senators are where all the attention and pressure needs to go. Cut Trump out of it. Come to think of it, I’d think the only action that would likely get Trump to move off his hardline would be getting him to see himself as irrelevant to the outcome.

  17. MarkedMan says:

    @Scott F.: My one hope for a silver lining in all this is that we end up with a bill that overrides a veto with significant Democratic votes and a (not as) significant Republican wing-nut defection. Breaking the Gingrich/Hastert choke lock on the Congress would be worth a lot.

  18. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Scott F.:

    McConnell’s approval rating in Kentucky is worse than Tiny’s is nationally, IIRC around 35%. He’s desperately trying to fend off a primary challenge from the right. If ‘the hand’ is primaried and moves to the right, Kentucky could be in play, but still a doubtful pick up for Dems.

  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: Well, I’m inclined to go with option B, but I may be more cynical as well as more ignint.

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Franklin: Unfortunately, we live in the United States.

  21. DrDaveT says:

    @Kathy:

    Maybe the Democrats ought to say they will negotiate with the people acting as Trump’s brain, seeing as Trump doesn’t have any real authority to negotiate anyway.

    Nine thumbs up; this is beautiful! Just the act of publicly offering to meet with Hannity and Coulter in order to work out a deal over what they will let Trump do would be an enormous PR coup and a humiliation to Republicans.

  22. An Interested Party says:

    I haven’t seen anyone propose this, but what about the possibility that Trump thinks he is “winning the shutdown”? He is pretty isolated nowadays and Steve Bannon or Steven Miller or Vladimir Putin whispering in his ear about what a manly man he is for staying firm could keep us in shut down indefinitely.

    That will simply squeeze Republicans, particularly in the Senate, even tighter…eventually McConnell may not have a choice but to let the Senate vote to end the shutdown…the longer this goes on, the better the Democratic commercials will be in Colorado and Maine, among other places…

  23. Kathy says:

    @DrDaveT:

    It’s simple logic. Coulter et. al. essentially vetoed Trump’s prior approval of the continuing resolution, so why waste time on Trump if his opinion on the matter is subject to review? Go straight to the real authority.