WASHINGTON - UPDATE: It looks like the government shutdown will end soon.
The Senate has advanced a bill reopening federal agencies through Feb. 8 after Democrats relented and lifted their blockade against the legislation.
The shutdown began Saturday after Democrats derailed a Republican measure that would have kept government open until Feb. 16. Democrats wanted to pressure the GOP to cut a deal protecting young immigrants from deportation and boosting federal spending.
Moderates from both parties pressured leaders to end the shutdown and compromise.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Democrats agreed to back the bill reopening government after he and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to begin debating an immigration bill by Feb. 8.
The Senate vote was 81-18 -- well above the 60 votes needed. The Senate still must vote on final passage to send the bill to the House.
Senate talks fall short, shutdown extends into workweek
The government shutdown is set to sow more disruption and political peril Monday after the Senate inched closer but ultimately fell short of an agreement that would have reopened federal agencies before the beginning of the workweek.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said negotiations kept going late into the night, with a vote to break a Democratic filibuster on a short-term funding bill scheduled for noon Monday. Under the proposal taking shape, Democrats would agree to a three-week spending measure — until Feb. 8 — in return for a commitment from the Republican leadership in the Senate to address immigration policy and other pressing legislative matters in the coming weeks.
But Democrats appeared to be holding out for a firmer commitment from McConnell. “We have yet to reach an agreement on a path forward,” Schumer said late Sunday.
McConnell’s comments followed hours of behind-the-scenes talks between the leaders and rank-and-file lawmakers over how to end the display of legislative dysfunction, which began Friday at midnight after Democrats blocked a temporary spending measure. Democrats have sought to use the spending bill to win concessions, including protections for roughly 700,000 younger immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children.
Republicans have appeared increasingly confident that Democrats were bearing the brunt of criticism for the shutdown and that they would ultimately buckle. The White House and GOP leaders said they would not negotiate with Democrats on immigration until the government is reopened.
There were indications Sunday that Democratic resolve was beginning to waver, with growing worries that a prolonged shutdown could prove to be an electoral headache for the party just as it has grown more confident about prospects in November.
Although they initially dug in on a demand for an immigration deal, Democrats had shifted to blaming the shutdown on the incompetence of Republicans and President Donald Trump, seeming sensitive to being seen by voters as willing to tie up government operations over their big to protect immigrants.
Trump, who regularly disrupted negotiations in recent weeks, had been a relatively subdued player in the weekend debate. He has not appeared in public since Friday afternoon. The White House said he was in regular contact with Republican leaders, but he has not reached out to any Democrats, a White House official said.
Sunday morning on Twitter, he called on the GOP-controlled Senate to consider deploying the “nuclear option” — changing Senate rules to end the filibuster — and reopen the government with a simple majority.
McConnell has dismissed that option, saying Republicans will welcome the filibuster when they return to being the Senate minority. The White House didn’t immediately respond to McConnell’s comments.
Democrats are facing intense pressure from their base to solve the issue over the young immigrants, and they are skeptical of Republicans’ credibility when offering to take up the issue. Whether Trump would back the emerging plan or any later proposal on immigration is an open question. Even if the Senate voted on an immigration proposal, its prospects in the House would be grim.
Throughout the day there were few outward signs of progress, as lawmakers took turns delivering animated speeches to near empty chambers to explain why the other party is to blame. McConnell and Schumer met off the Senate floor in the early evening, as many in quiet Capitol offices flipped their television screens to playoff football games.
While lawmakers feuded, signs of the shutdown were evident at national parks and in some federal agencies. Social Security and most other safety-net programs were unaffected by the lapse in federal spending authority. Critical government functions continued, with uniformed service members, health inspectors and law enforcement officers set to work without pay.
Lawmakers were mindful that the political stakes would soar Monday morning, when thousands of federal workers would be told to stay home or, in many cases, work without pay. What was still a weekend burst of Washington dysfunction could spiral into a broader crisis with political consequences in November’s midterm elections.
That threat prompted a bipartisan group of Senate moderates to huddle for a second day Sunday in hopes of crafting a plan to reopen the government. The group was set to meet again Monday morning.
The emerging approach found advocates in South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has been trying to broker an immigration deal, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, both Republicans who rejected an earlier short-term proposal. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, another previous no-vote, announced he would vote in favor of reopening the government Monday.
Graham said no deal had been reached by the moderate group because Democrats were not yet on board. “To my Democratic friends, don’t overplay your hand,” he told reporters. “A government shutdown is not a good way to get an outcome legislatively.”
The vote Monday will prove to be a test of unity and resolve among Democrats. Five Democrats from states won by Trump broke ranks in a vote Friday. The measure gained 50 votes to proceed to 49 against, but 60 were needed to break a Democratic filibuster.
Schumer’s moment: Shutdown puts spotlight on Dem leader
For Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is the face of the government shutdown. For immigration advocates, he’s their best hope.
Perhaps the most powerful Democrat in Washington, Schumer has so far succeeded in keeping his party unified in a bid to use the government funding fight to push for protections for some 700,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. But he has little margin for error in this first major test of his muscle and maneuvering as leader. The pragmatist is balancing the demands of a liberal base eager for a fight with President Donald Trump and the political realities of red-state senators anxious about their re-election prospects this fall.
Some of those senators met with Schumer Sunday morning and urged a compromise to end the shutdown.
“The question is, how do we get out of here in a way that reflects what the majority of the body wants to do,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, who is among the Democrats on the ballot in November. She added: “It is critically important that we get this done today.”
Yet the weekend closed without a deal, meaning thousands of federal employees will wake up Monday either being told to stay home or work without pay. The Senate scheduled a vote Monday to advance a bill that would extend government funding through Feb. 8. In a bid to win over a few holdouts, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also pledged to take up legislation on immigration and other top Democratic priorities if they weren’t already addressed by the time that spending bill would expire.
It’s unclear whether McConnell’s pledge will be enough to sway the handful of Democrats he needs to pass a spending bill. Democratic aides said that while Schumer, who spent the weekend calling members on his flip phone, appears to be holding the party together for now, some senators were eagerly searching for a way out of the shutdown.
Despite controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress, Republicans have pinned the blame for the shutdown squarely on Schumer, accusing him of being captive to liberals and advocacy groups who oppose any spending package that doesn’t result in a solution for the young immigrants. The White House and GOP officials have branded the funding gap the “Schumer Shutdown,” spreading the phrase as a hashtag on social media.
Immigration advocates are hoping Schumer will see that as badge of honor, but there is anxiety about his resolve.
“He went to the mats,” said Frank Sharry, the executive director of the immigration advocacy group America’s Voice. “He had the backbone to lead his caucus into a high-stakes, high risk battle. It thrilled progressives. But if the shutdown ends because Democrats blink first, the era of good feeling quickly will be replaced by anger and disappointment.”
Schumer isn’t the most natural fit for the role of champion of the left.
The energetic, four-term senator is viewed as more of a pragmatist than an ideologue. He has long faced skepticism from some liberals, thanks, in part, to his Wall Street ties. He frustrated many Democrats with his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal championed by President Barack Obama.
In 2013, Schumer was part of a bipartisan group of senators who worked on a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s fractured immigration laws. The package, which would have created a pathway to citizenship for millions of people in the U.S. illegally, was narrowly approved in the Senate but never taken up by the House
Just last month, immigration advocates, including members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, were furious with Schumer and Democratic leaders for not forcing a fight over the young immigrants. Democratic aides said that despite the pressure from some of his party’s most energized forces, Schumer knew his caucus would not hold together at that point. Indeed, 18 Democratic senators ultimately voted for a short-term spending bill that kicked both the budget battle and the immigration fight into the new year.
The dynamic shifted in January. Democrats began the year hopeful that Trump, who has expressed sympathy for the young immigrants, would be willing to make a big deal. When those plans collapsed, Schumer found more enthusiasm even among moderate Democrat senators to withhold support for a spending bill that didn’t address immigration, even if it meant forcing a shutdown.
He was helped along, according to multiple Democratic aides, by revelations that Trump had told lawmakers during a private meeting that he wanted less immigration from “shithole” countries in Africa and more from places like Norway.
Schumer experienced a sea change after the remarks, according to one aide, who like other Democrats and Trump advisers, insisted on anonymity in order to describe private deliberations.
Still, Schumer entertained one last opportunity to make a deal with Trump on Friday, when the president summoned him to the White House for a cheeseburger lunch. The two New Yorkers have a long history with each other and both have entertained the idea that they could be negotiating partners, though they’ve so far had little success.
Schumer arrived at the White House with the outlines of a deal he believed his caucus would support. One Democratic aide said the agreement included “significant appropriations” for spending on Trump’s proposed border wall. The White House has since disputed that characterization, with Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney saying Sunday that what Schumer offered Trump was “authorization for funding, not an appropriation” — meaning no guarantee of money.
Schumer started spreading word of a possible agreement to his members. But within hours, White House chief of staff John Kelly called Schumer to say that the deal he’d discussed with the president was too liberal for the White House to accept.
As of Sunday night, it was the last discussion Schumer has had with the White House.
White House officials say Trump feels burned by Schumer after the immigration negotiations and they don’t view him as an honest broker. Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the senator’s “memory is hazy” and his recollection of Friday’s meeting is “false.”
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