Senate To Vote On Bills Doomed To Fail As Shutdown Continues

The Senate has the ball this week in terms of action on the government shutdown, but its work is going to end up being utterly pointless.

As the Federal Government enters its thirty-third day, action has for once shifted to the Senate, which will consider two separate, seemingly contradictory bills bring it to an end, neither one of which seems designed to bring it to an end:

WASHINGTON — The Senate will hold competing votes on Thursday on President Trump’s proposal to spend $5.7 billion on a border wall and on a Democratic bill that would fund the government through Feb. 8 without a wall. It will be the first time the Senate has stepped off the sidelines to try to end the monthlong government shutdown.

The procedural move by Senators Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, is the first time the parties have agreed to do virtually anything since the shutdown began Dec. 22. With most Republicans united behind Mr. Trump’s insistence that any legislation to reopen the government include money for a border wall and most Democrats opposed to the linkage, neither measure is expected to draw the 60 votes required to advance.

That means Friday is likely to come and go without action to end the shutdown, forcing 800,000 federal workers to go without a paycheck for the second time this month.

But there was hope that the votes could usher in a more cooperative phase in a crisis that has so far been marked almost entirely by partisan posturing; if both measures fall short, the votes could add new energy to efforts to negotiate a bipartisan compromise. With the shutdown now in its fifth week, the pressure is growing on both parties to reopen the government.

“People are saying, isn’t there a way out of this mess? Isn’t there a way to relieve the burden on the 800,000 federal workers not getting paid? Isn’t there a way to get government services open first and then debate what we should do for border security?” Mr. Schumer said Tuesday on the Senate floor after Mr. McConnell announced the votes. “Well, now there’s a way.”


In the Senate, Mr. Trump’s proposal, which he promoted in a televised address on Saturday as a bipartisan compromise to pair wall funding with temporary legal protections for some immigrants, is facing all but certain death after White House officials conceded privately on Tuesday they had tacked on controversial proposals anathema to Democrats that would block many migrants from seeking asylum.

The Republican legislation, unveiled Monday night, would provide $5.7 billion in wall funding and large spending increases for the detention and removal of immigrants, as well as three-year provisional protections for 700,000 of the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers and for about 325,000 immigrants mostly from Latin American countries and Haiti who have been living in the United States under Temporary Protected Status.

As sweeteners to entice Democrats to back the measure, Mr. McConnell added $12.7 billion in disaster aid and an extension of the Violence Against Women Act, a measure that expired last year when government funding lapsed.

“The opportunity to end all this is staring us right in the face,” Mr. McConnell said Tuesday, calling the president’s proposal “a comprehensive and bipartisan offer.”


Mr. Schumer’s proposal would add disaster aid to previously passed House measures to fund the government at current levels through Feb. 8.

The Democratic proposal might have some appeal to a handful of moderate Republicans who have expressed concern about the continuing shutdown, but to prevail, all Democrats would need to vote for it, and they would need the support of 13 Republicans, a tall order.

Even as the Senate planned for high-stakes votes on Thursday, the House was preparing to advance its own pair of proposals starting Wednesday to reopen the government. Democrats scheduled votes on a package of six spending bills negotiated between House and Senate Republicans and Democrats that would include funding for immigration judges and infrastructure improvements at ports of entry. They also planned a vote on a separate stopgap spending bill that would fund the Department of Homeland Security at current levels through Feb. 28.

The measures are similar to legislation that the House has passed repeatedly over the past few weeks, only to meet with a blockade in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Mr. McConnell has refused to take them up.4

Neither one of these bills is expected to get sufficient support to even proceed forward to a floor vote in the Senate, never mind either get a floor in the House or the President’s signature.

In addition to the fact that it contains the same $5.7 billion in wall funding that Democrats have been rejecting since December, the Senate Republican bill contains what amount to poison pills in the form of changes to the asylum process that Democrats are sure to reject. These changes, which have been advocated for in the past by Stephen Miller, President Trump’s decidedly anti-immigrant senior adviser, would make it much harder for people from Central America from claiming asylum, making it difficult for them to seek refuge from government persecution and gang violence in their home countries. One of these changes seems especially cruel in that it would bar children from claiming asylum in the United States, and would instead require them to do so in their home countries. The changes would allow U.S. authorities to quickly be returned to their home countries notwithstanding an outstanding asylum application. Additionally, the provisions would create new grounds for determining that an application for asylum is “frivolous” by expanding the definition in a way that it would make it easier for authorities to deny asylum applications sua sponte. Not surprisingly, Democrats have rejected the GOP bill, and pointing to the asylum changes in particular as “poison pills” and not having been made in good faith. Given that, it’s unlikely that the GOP bill will get any Democratic support. Given that Republicans would need at least seven Democrats to get past a cloture vote, this means that the Republican bill will fail.

As for the Democratic bill mirrors those passed by the House since the beginning of the new Congress in that it funds those agencies of the government not impacted by the border wall funding and leaves that issue, along with other issues related to immigration to be battled over after the government reopens. On principle, this is the perfectly rational response to all of this, of course, and the manner in which all of this should be resolved in a rational universe. However, if there’s anything that has been abundantly clear for the past two years or more, we are not living in a rational universe. Any President other than Trump would have been willing to sit down and negotiate and, likely come up with a deal that provided for some funding for “border security” that allowed him to save face while at the same time reopening the government. Trump, however, remains adamant in his insistence that any final bill will include $5.7 billion in funding for his wall and the fact that Republicans and the Senate remain largely united behind him. In any case, even if there were a handful of Republicans willing to stand up to McConnell and the President, the current makeup of the Senate would mean that thirteen Republicans would need to join with a united Democratic caucus to get the bills passed. That is not going to happen.

As noted, the vote on these bills isn’t even scheduled to take place until tomorrow, meaning that the shutdown will stretch through the end of the week and into the weekend without any resolution or chance of a resolution coming in the near future. To be frank about it, there isn’t much hope of a resolution beyond that either, at least not in the short-term. So far, nothing has moved either side off their current positions. Not the reports about Federal workers having to figure out how to survive without first one and now a second paycheck. Not the polls that continue to show that the public blames the President for the current state of affairs, that the shutdown is eroding faith in the overall health of the economy, and that the President’s job approval numbers are suffering because of it. Not the reports about how the shutdown is impacting, the Coast Guard, the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and countless other branches of government. What is it going to take the move the needle on either side? Honestly, I have absolutely no idea at this point, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this shutdown continues well into February.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Congress, Deficit and Debt, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. SKI says:

    Still trying to figure out what explanation GOP Senators will give for why a bill that passed in December unanimously won’t be able to get past cloture…

    McConnell refusing to bring a bill to the floor without Trump’s blessing was explainable, even if abhorrent and a dereliction of their Constitutional duties. What rationale is available to Gardner or Collins or any of them for voting against something that you voted for before?

    Only two explanations I can think of:

    1. Could vote before when they knew the House wouldn’t allow it to pass. AKA, we actually don’t support opening the government. Except that the House was going to vote for it until Trump changed his mind.

    2. Party over country – and party is the Presidency. Believe Congress is an inferior branch.

  2. @SKI:

    As I have noted in the past, the bill you refer to passed the Senate via unanimous consent, not on a voice vote, largely due to the fact that GOP Senators believed that President Trump had their back and that he would sign the bill into law once it passed the House. I doubt McConnell would have brought it to the floor if he didn’t have this understanding with the White House.

    Not long after the Senate bill passed, though, the President pulled the rug out from under Republicans, rejected the bill he had previously accepted, and insisted on funding for a border wall. This basically guaranteed that the Senate bill would fail in the House (which, remember, was still controlled by the GOP at the time). For better or worse, that December bill would not pass now given the fact that the President has made clear that he won’t support it.

  3. SKI says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Oh, I understand the dynamics. I’m talking about the implications/messaging of those dynamics – what they mean about how the GOP Senators feel about their relationship vis-a-vis the Presidency. They are outsourcing their decision making to Trump – only voting for something he approves and voting against things he disapproves.

    McConnell can make the argument that it would be a waste of time to bring it to the floor if Trump will veto. That is not an argument that can be used by individual Senators once it is being brought to the floor already.

    When asked by a Constituent why they are changing their vote, what plausible story can they sell?

  4. Bob@Youngstown says:


    When asked by a Constituent why they are changing their vote, what plausible story can they sell?

    Fall back on the tried and what works: Baffle ’em with bullsh*t.

  5. @SKI:

    Perhaps, but the fact is that the dynamics have changed significantly since the Senate took that vote, and you can blame President Trump for that.

  6. Teve says:

    As sweeteners to entice Democrats to back the measure, Mr. McConnell added $12.7 billion in disaster aid and an extension of the Violence Against Women Act,

    so food and shelter aid to people hit by natural disasters, and help for women being abused, are Republican concessions to the Democrats.

    I don’t even have to say that Republicans are stupid people with shitty values, they’re busy saying it themselves.

  7. SKI says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Perhaps, but the fact is that the dynamics have changed significantly since the Senate took that vote, and you can blame President Trump for that.

    But what dynamics can they claim have changed that don’t make them sound like they are abdicating their decision-making to Trump?

    Nothing has changed except Trump.

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    and you can blame President Trump for that.

    I can’t blame the President for the demonstrated cowardice on the part of the larger GOP tho. They have been sucking up to the racists for decades and now they are controlled by that part of the party.

  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    The 538 average before the shut-down had Trump underwater by 10 points. He is now under water by 16 points. Eyes are being opened amongst the 46%. They’re slow, very, very slow, but a few around the margins are beginning to wonder if the pathological liar, cheat, fraud, crook and traitor might not actually care about ‘folks like them.’

  10. Scott F. says:

    On principle, this is the perfectly rational response to all of this, of course, and the manner in which all of this should be resolved in a rational universe.

    One bill, the one preferred by the Democrats, is principled and rational. The other bill, the one preferred by the Republicans, has “especially cruel” terms and reinforces shutdowns as a tool for policy leverage. Both bills are equally likely to fail due to the dynamics in Washington.

    The contrast could not be more stark. The only “dynamic” worth discussing is the full and profound degradation of the Republican Party.

  11. In fairness, Congress has votes that it knows will fail all the time–it just isn’t the topic of much coverage (which is true of a lot of the internal workings of Congress).

    You sometimes have to have votes like this to get things moving, get members on the record, etc. It is part of the process, so I would neither characterize this as “pointless” and I would push back on the broader media narrative that suggests this as some weird, doomed action. It is the kind of thing that actually shows some small movement towards resolution of the current impasse.

  12. Teve says:

    Call me naive, but several hundred thousand people are about to not get their second paycheck in a row, and over a million people are impacted by that, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw serious demonstrations in the streets starting this weekend.

  13. Kathy says:


    I’ve been thinking about that lately. The absence of a paycheck for 800 k workers means several hundred thousand families lack a means of sustenance.

    This is like, you know, a natural disaster,only spread out over the country. It’s the thing that can be handled as an emergency.

    I don’t think even Dennison is that stupid, or that morally retarded, but he could issue his Vanity Wall emergency (trademark of the Trump organization, all rights reserved), including funds to pay the poor federal workers who’ve been going without money, especially those who can’t even hustle for a sideline or a temp job because they are forced to work without pay.

  14. Cian Cafferky says:

    Amazed this hasn’t happened sooner. The idea that one man, a billionaire who has never worked a day in his life and only survived because his wealthy father indulged him, can threaten the livelihoods of millions of hard working American citizens, and not be dragged kicking and screaming from his place of work, is beyond belief.

    Still, his numbers are tanking (CBS News poll has his approval at 36%, and over 70% expressing their disgust at his shutdown antics), so there’s some hope, I suppose.

  15. Grumpy realist says:

    @Kathy: Dennison is a narc. He won’t care. He’ll just accuse them of being “Democrats” and mumble something about “the People” being behind him.

  16. Teve says:
  17. SKI says:

    A glint of hope…

    There is, however, one bill up in the Senate that should pass on the merits—and I can’t quite believe it, but I’ve now heard from multiple senators and staffers that it actually has a shot. It’s a bill to temporarily reopen the government, no strings attached. The “clean CR.”

    And from later in that thread:

    Here’s the target list I’ve seen circulating privately: R senators who, we hear, want to reopen the govt:

    Rick Scott

  18. Teve says:
  19. Kathy says:


    Assuming they all vote for a bill to reopen the government, they’d need every Democratic vote in order to override a veto. I add up to 66 votes with all the Democrats.

    That’s a rosy projection, IMO, given McConnell might not even schedule a vote. And even then, are there enough votes in the house to override a veto?

    I suppose the Congressional leadership of both parties could negotiate a temporary measure for a continuing resolution with enough votes for an override and force El Cheeto’s tiny hand. But this is predicated in somehow enough Republicans suddenly growing a spine.

  20. SKI says:

    @Kathy: McConnell has already agreed to a vote tomorrow. First on Trump’s bill and then on the CR the House already passed.

    The real question is whether Trump would actually veto or would back down.

  21. Kathy says:


    I’m sure Trump’s bill won’t get to a vote for lack of Cloture (or however one says it). I’s like to think the other stands a chance, but I really don’t think it does.

  22. Teve says:

    @Kathy: the house has passed bills to reopen the government. If the Senate tries, and fails, then they get more of the responsibility. McConnell hates Trump, so while he doesn’t want to piss off Trump voters, he probly doesn’t mind dumping the blame from his chamber to Trump.

  23. Scott F. says:


    Holding the protest at the Hart Senate Offices rather than the White House is a smart move. Trump is unmovable. The GOP Senate is at least remotely persuadable.

  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    In addition to the fact that it contains the same $5.7 billion in wall funding that Democrats have been rejecting since December, the Senate Republican bill contains what amount to poison pills in the form of changes to the asylum process that Democrats are sure to reject.

    So this is what *compromise* looks like in the GOP Senate caucus–give us 100% of what we were asking for AND these two or three other things we added just to be obnoxious. MAWA!

    The changes would allow U.S. authorities to quickly be returned to their home countries notwithstanding an outstanding asylum application.

    Now THIS has some potential. Can it be amended in the House so that it includes members of the White House Staff and Congressional Republicans? We can ship these MFSBs back to the homes of their ancestors and get people who would like to try to govern –assuming there are such people in the GOP. (And yes, I know it’s a typo, but I couldn’t resist.)