Government Shutdown Enters Day Thirty-Five With Some Signs Of New Action In Washington
As the shutdown enters day thirty-five, there are some signs of movement in Washington but no real progress.
As we make our way through day thirty-five of the government shutdown, the not expected failure yesterday afternoon of two proposals to end the shutdown to pass the Senate seems to have at least spurred some action on Capitol Hill, although it’s unclear if it will lead to anything productive:
WASHINGTON — A pair of measures to reopen the government — one with President Trump’s border wall, the other without it — failed in the Senate on Thursday, sending lawmakers from both parties into frenzied efforts to forge a compromise that could end the nearly six-week partial shutdown.
In back-to-back votes, the Senate first blocked Mr. Trump’s proposal to add $5.7 billion for his border wall to legislation to resume funding for the government, then turned back a Democratic measure that omitted the wall. Neither side was able to garner the 60 votes needed to advance its bill.
But the results undercut the president by revealing that his proposal drew less support in the Republican-controlled Senate than did the Democrats’ plan, which attracted a half-dozen Republicans willing to break with Mr. Trump. And with the shutdown reaching a grim milestone on Friday as 800,000 federal workers miss a second consecutive paycheck, pressure is mounting in both parties to find a solution.
In a lunch meeting before the votes, Republican senators vented their concern to Vice President Mike Pence about the prolonged shutdown, according to two people familiar with the discussion, which grew tense at times. Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, who has previously counseled against allowing government funding to lapse, was among those arguing that it should never have occurred, they said.
Almost as soon as the roll calls were finished in the packed Senate chamber, a round of telephone calls and conversations began among Mr. Trump, Republican and Democratic congressional leaders and other senators who have been quietly searching for weeks for a bipartisan compromise to end the gridlock.
“Don’t give up hope, because now is the time that we all must come together to address these issues,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, one of the six Republicans who voted for the Democratic measure. “But you can’t do it when the government is shut down.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, announced on the Senate floor that he had spoken with the president, who had said he would be open to a three-week stopgap measure to reopen the government and provide time for a broader border security deal, as long as it included some of his priorities.
“It gets us back in the ballgame,” Mr. Graham said, as a group of 16 senators — eight from each party — rose in turn to endorse the idea of the three-week spending measure.
But hanging over those talks was continued uncertainty about the president’s bottom line for a deal. Mr. Trump spoke positively of talks between Mr. McConnell and Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, but he said was not dropping his demand for wall funding.
“One of the ideas suggested is they open, they pay some sort of prorated down payment on the wall, which you need,” the president told reporters at the White House. “If they come to a reasonable agreement,” he said of Mr. McConnell and Mr. Schumer, “I would support it, yes.”
He again mentioned “other alternatives” that he could turn to if he did not secure wall funding from Congress, presumably an emergency declaration that could allow him to shift funds from the military or Army Corps of Engineers.
But Democrats were unlikely to agree to that. “Senator Schumer and Senate Democrats have made clear to Leader McConnell and Republicans that they will not support funding for the wall, prorated or otherwise,” said Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Mr. Schumer. Others emphasized that they shared the president’s goal of adding security measures at the border, as long as he would first agree to end the shutdown, and House Democrats were circulating proposals for a “smart wall,” with drones, sensors and some additional fencing, but no edifice from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico.
“What we have put on the table is our reputation as legislators, that given three weeks, we’ll come up with a successful conclusion on the border security issue,” said Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland.
Urgency is rising in both parties to reopen the government, even if that means making concessions their leaders might not have considered a few weeks ago. House Democrats, prodded on by rank-and-file lawmakers from conservative districts who are eager to promote their own border security ideas, are poised as early as Friday to outline more than $5 billion in measures they support, a far larger sum than they initially entertained.
“We’re not that far apart,” said Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, imploring members of his own party and Democrats to “stop talking past each other.”
In what may be a sign of progress, Politico reports that Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Schumer are talking among themselves, are their staffs, in an effort to try to find some agreement that could pass the Senate and the House and be signed into law by the President, The Washington Post, meanwhile, reports that the length of the ongoing shutdown seems to be fraying relationships among Senate Republicans:
Republican senators clashed with one another and confronted Vice President Pence inside a private luncheon on Thursday, as anger hit a boiling point over the longest government shutdown in history.
“This is your fault,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at one point, according to two Republicans who attended the lunch and witnessed the exchange.
“Are you suggesting I’m enjoying this?” McConnell snapped back, according to the people who attended the lunch.
Johnson spokesman Ben Voelkel confirmed the confrontation. He said Johnson was expressing frustration with the day’s proceedings — votes on dueling plans to reopen the government, both of which failed to advance.
The people who attended the lunch spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a closed-door session. Aides to McConnell, citing regular policy on GOP lunches, declined to comment on the gathering.
The argument was one of several heated moments in a lunch that came just before the Senate voted on the opposing plans to end the shutdown offered by President Trump and Democrats.
The outbursts highlighted the toll the shutdown has taken on Republican lawmakers, who are dealing with growing concerns from constituents and blame from Democrats, all while facing pressure from conservatives to stand with Trump in his demand for money to build a wall on the border with Mexico.
The votes the Senate cast on Thursday were the first on the shutdown since it began Dec. 22, with McConnell and other GOP lawmakers previously refusing to vote on anything this year unless it had Trump’s approval — a policy that has drawn widespread criticism.
The day ended with some limited signs of progress. After the votes, McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) engaged in a face-to-face negotiation that senators hoped would lead to a solution in the near future.
The first proposal, which Trump put forward, would have allocated $5.7 billion for wall funding in exchange for temporary protections for some immigrants. Only one Democrat voted for it. Two Republicans rejected the plan.
One of the Republicans, Sen. Mike Lee (Utah), also spoke out in the lunch. He explained that if Thursday’s votes were merely a party-line exercise, there should be more changes to the nation’s asylum laws, according to one of the people who attended the lunch. Lee also expressed concerns about getting assurances for votes on his amendments.
Six Republicans broke ranks to vote for the Democratic plan, which would have reopened shuttered government agencies through Feb. 8, without any wall money. Among them was Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who explained in the lunch why he planned to vote for both bills.
Later today, House Democrats are expected to release a new version of their previous proposals that may or may not change the course of negotiations going forward. It will include the provisions to reopen the government for at least a short period of time as well as the allocation of $5.7 billion that would be allocated toward “border security,” although not to the President’s border wall. Ideas similar to this have also been circulating in the Senate, although there is nothing concrete expected any time soon from that side of the Capitol. The White House, meanwhile, said after the failure of the two proposals in the Senate that the idea of a short-term Continuing Resolution would only work if there was what White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred to as a “substantial down payment” on the wall, although it’s not clear exactly what amount this means. In any case, at the very least, it appears that the failure of the Senate bills may have spurred some action. Whether it leads to anything remains to be seen.
In the meantime, the shutdown itself continues with little hope of an immediate end in sight. As of today, the Federal workers impacted by the shutdown, including members of the Coast Guard and law enforcement personnel under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security, have not been paid for two pay periods now. The reports of Federal workers struggling to pay bills, pay medical expenses, and put food on their family’s table. And, in perhaps the biggest development to date, flights at New York’s LaGuardia Airport are being delayed and grounded due to a shortage of TSA and air traffic control due no doubt to the shutdown and the fact that these people are not getting paid. If this continues much longer, the impact is just going to get worse. Whether that spurs action remains to be seen.