Democrats Prepare A New Proposal To End Shutdown
As the shutdown enters its thirty-fourth day and the Senate gets ready to vote on proposals that have no chance of succeeding, Democrats are preparing a new proposal.
As the government shutdown enters its thirty-fourth day, Democrats seem prepared to offer an alternative proposal that includes significantly more funding for border security than they have been willing to consider in the past:
House Democrats are preparing a counteroffer to President Trump’s border security demands without a wall, seeking to restart long-stalled talks to reopen the government after 33 days.
Democratic leaders are drafting their own version of a funding bill to reopen the Department of Homeland Security, which is expected to include at least $5 billion for border protection efforts like new technology and more law enforcement agents, according to multiple aides.
The proposal — which is still being finalized — won’t include new money for Trump’s border wall, which House Democrats have vehemently opposed.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to formally unveil the proposal Thursday evening, after the Senate takes up its own dueling funding measures to reopen the government. Both are partisan bills that are predicted to fall short of the necessary 60 votes.
Pelosi and her deputies are also mulling sending a letter directly to the White House outlining their positions, which some Democrats hope will unfreeze negotiations that have gone nowhere throughout the impasse.
With the shutdown in its fourth week, pressure is reaching a boiling point with federal workers set to miss their second paycheck on Friday.
Congressional leaders in both chambers are planning action this week as more lawmakers go public with their anxiety about the endless stalemate. Still, an end to the shutdown remains far off, with no talks scheduled between Pelosi and Senate GOP leaders, who will need to bless any funding deal.
Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), vice chair of the House Democratic Conference, confirmed the party’s plans on Wednesday, and described it as an attempt to show “a path forward out of this.”
But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) pushed back Wednesday on the idea that the letter was intended to directly reopen talks with Trump, despite several Democratic sources privately describing it that way. Democrats have said firmly that they would not negotiate with the government still closed.
“The letter is not a negotiation,” Hoyer told reporters. “The letter is going to articulate what we believe is an effective investment to accomplish border security.”
Hoyer wouldn’t say whether the missive would contain a specific monetary offer for border security but did say Democrats are prepared to spend much more than they’ve offered in current negotiations.
“We are prepared to spend a very substantial sum of money because we share the view that our borders need to be secure,” Hoyer said.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), the lead negotiator on DHS funding, spent the weekend in the Capitol working on a bill that will “reflect the consensus of House Democrats,” one Democratic aide said. The bill stands no chance of becoming law, but it seen as “something to work with” in negotiations with the White House.
While we won’t know everything that’s in the proposal until Democrats actually introduce it later today after the expected failure of the two bills being considered by the Senate, there does seem to be at least some movement on that side of the ball that could spur the parties forward toward an agreement. While the bill would not authorize border wall funding, it would authorize $5.7 billion for a number of other border security measures, including technology that would be far more effective than a wall and enhancements to security at ports of entry, which are the source of the majority of the drug running that the President has taken to point to as justification for his wall. It would also authorize spending on repairs, and some enhancements, for existing border fencing and other security. The most significant part of the apparent proposal, though, is the fact that it equals the monetary demand that the President is making even though it appropriates the money differently. Could this be enough of a face-saving for the President to declare victory? At least initially, probably not. However, it could be the beginning of a movement toward such a resolution presuming the White House is willing to head there.
News of this coming proposal comes at the same time that some moderate members of the Democratic Caucus, many of them newly-elected, are pushing for their party to be more willing to negotiate:
A handful of moderate Democrats have begun to speak out against Pelosi’s strategy of refusing to negotiate until the government is reopened. A small group, led by freshman Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia, began circulating a letter this week pressing Pelosi to counter Trump’s proposal with her own potential compromise.
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), another centrist Democrat, said he, too, has considered confronting leadership as he’s felt mounting pressure in his district.
The Oregon Democrat said he’s willing to negotiate while the government remains shut down as long as Trump is willing to put a broader immigration deal on the table that goes beyond temporary protections for Dreamers, which he said is “kind of BS.”
“Not negotiating is not a good strategy,” the Blue Dog Coalition member said. “We lost the messaging battle over the weekend. We can’t reject stuff out of hand, you have to at least consider it… But I think there’s an opportunity to have a broader conversation as a result of that… there’s a lot of people that are getting interested, we’re getting a lot of push back home to solve this problem,” Schrader said.
The Blue Dog Coalition was preparing to send a letter Wednesday criticizing the “brinksmanship” and calling on Democratic and GOP leadership to begin talks now on a border security package both sides could support, even before the government reopens.
“We therefore urge you to hold a bipartisan, bicameral summit that brings together House and Senate leaders to hold a substantive, transparent discussion on a path forward to reopen the government,” the group said in a draft of the letterobtained by POLITICO. “That discussion should be designed to produce legislation that will quickly pass both chambers of Congress.”
In a closed-door Democratic Caucus meeting Wednesday, Pelosi tried to ease members’ frustrations by telling them leadership has a plan, even if they’re not revealing all of the details just yet.
“Sticking with a plan — and there is a plan that will unfold, working jointly with the House and Senate — I wish we would do that,” Pelosi said in the meeting, according to a Democratic source.
Pelosi then went on to say members should trust their committee leaders, noting that Roybal-Allard “has the bill ready to go” and “nobody knows more about homeland security” than Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the panel.
“I am so proud of our freshman going out there and saying open up government then talk about this or that,” she added. “But understand, there is a plan. It is working for us. I appreciate the unease because we all do.”
To a large extent, this upcoming proposal from the House Democrats is likely to satisfy these restive moderate Democrats eager to see some movement toward an end of this standoff, while at the same time not risking that more liberal Democrats will perceive the leadership as caving to the President. Additionally, the fact that the proposal won’t be formally introduced until after the expected failure of the two bills pending in the Senate means that the momentum will once again be in the hands of House Democrats, with Republicans sitting on the sidelines while the shutdown continues and they continue to be perceived as not doing much of anything. Meanwhile, as I noted yesterday, the Senate is set to vote on two proposals, neither one of which is expected to gain enough support to pass and the hope apparently is that this will somehow spur the parties toward negotiation:
The Senate plans to hold dueling votes Thursday to end the longest government shutdown in history. Like many, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) thinks both proposals will fail.
That, in the eyes of Rounds and others, is the point.
“I think this is basically a public statement of what all of us know to already be the case,” Rounds said in an interview. “But it provides an avenue.”
Where that road will lead is an open question. Still, for the first time this year, the Senate is taking concrete steps to try to resolve the partial shutdown — offering a glimmer of hope for a deal to reopen shuttered agencies.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) agreed to hold initial votes on two starkly contrasting ideas that some lawmakers hope will mark a small but important step toward a solution.
The votes will test the abilities of McConnell and Schumer to unify their sides, and likely, to negotiate with each other afterward. In other dramatic fiscal showdowns over the past decade, the Senate has almost always been the chamber that found the bipartisan solution as the House hit roadblocks, from the Wall Street bailout of 2008 to reopening of government after the 2013 shutdown. But those were crises that predated President Trump’s mercurial presidency.
In effect, the defeat of both measures would demonstrate in the most concrete manner yet that what both sides have been pushing for is not possible in the Senate, and that some new compromise must be forged to pass the chamber.
Such a scenario might entice Trump to offer more concessions to Democrats while serving as a counter to Democrats’ insistence that there is overwhelming support for their plan, according to a Senate Republican leadership aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.
“Sometimes failure is a prelude to people looking at each other and saying, well, now we know what will fail, let’s try to devise something that will succeed,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in an interview.
First, senators will vote on Trump’s latest offer to end the impasse — $5.7 billion to build a wall on the border with Mexico in exchange for temporary protections for some immigrants.
To advance, the bill will need 60 votes under Senate rules. Republicans hold 53 seats and Democrats are largely united against Trump’s plan and his wall, giving it little chance of succeeding.
Next, the Senate will vote on the Democratic plan — open up the government without wall funding through Feb. 8, offering relief to federal workers and buying time to continue the negotiations on border security. Most Republicans oppose this idea, making 60 votes a very difficult target.
Asked if there is still room for progress moving forward if both Thursday votes fail, Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats, replied, “Yes.”
In a speech on the Senate floor, Schumer urged Republicans to vote for the plan he has embraced.
“To say: Well, one is a Democratic amendment, one’s a Republican amendment doesn’t get the magnitude of this, the difference,” he said. “Because one is holding 800,000 workers hostage, millions of Americans hostage, unless the amendment authors get their way. The second says: We’re not demanding anything. Just open up the government and then let’s discuss it.”
McConnell defended the Republican plan. “The president has produced a fair compromise that pairs full-year government funding with immigration policy priorities from both sides. Enough political spite,” he said in his floor speech.
Exactly where the Senate would go if the votes end in failure on Thursday was unclear. Neither McConnell’s office nor Schumer’s would speculate on next steps.
The Senate version of the President’s proposal, of course, is more than just what he proposed in his speech Saturday afternoon. In addition to the provisions related to border wall funding, the bill includes changes to the asylum process that seem to obviously be poison pills that would make it impossible for Democrats to support the bill at all. Given that, the outcome of today’s votes in the Senate is foreordained. Everyone knows this, and no doubt the President’s own advisers have already advised him of this. Therefore it’s hard to see how actually taking the votes and watching them fail is going to have much of a significant impact on the situation or the political calculus, especially since the President’s political calculus seems to completely ignore the obvious damage that the continuing shutdown is doing to him and his political fortunes outside of his hardcore base of support. Perhaps it’s possible that actually seeing his own proposal get rejected will spur the President to act or to compromise, but given how he’s acted up until now that doesn’t seem likely.
In any case, the Senate votes will come this afternoon shortly before 3:00 p.m. Washington time so I suppose we’ll see what happens after that.