Government shutdown likelihood grows amid Senate standoff
Just hours ahead of a midnight deadline to fund the government, a high-stakes standoff in the Senate is making the prospects of a shutdown more likely by the minute.
by LEIGH ANN CALDWELL and FRANK THORP V
WASHINGTON — Just hours ahead of a midnight deadline to fund the government, a high-stakes standoff in the Senate is making the prospects of a shutdown more likely by the minute.
After a day of stalemate where neither side gave any indication that they would cave, the Senate has scheduled a critical 10 p.m. vote on a procedural motion. It needs the support of 60 senators to advance and it's unclear now if enough Democrats and Republicans will support the four-week short-term spending bill.
Democrats have been withholding their support, demanding more progress on a Dreamers while some Republicans, frustrated with the spate of month-long spending bills, are likely to block the current proposal on the table, which would keep the government running for another four weeks.
In a mid-day development, President Donald Trump invited Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to the White House for a meeting. Afterward, Schumer indicated there was no deal yet. “We had a long and detailed meeting,” he said. “We discussed all of the major outstanding issues, we made some progress, but we still have a good number of disagreements. The discussions will continue.”
Friday afternoon, Trump tweeted about the meeting:
When the day began, the president signaled that a shutdown was possible.
“Government Funding Bill past [sic] last night in the House of Representatives. Now Democrats are needed if it is to pass in the Senate - but they want illegal immigration and weak borders,” he tweeted. “Shutdown coming? We need more Republican victories in 2018!”
House Whip Steve Scalise’s office told members to remain “flexible” in case the Senate passes a spending bill that differs from the House version. The House would need to pass it before it could go to the president’s desk for signature.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell does not have the votes to pass the spending bill that would fund the government until Feb. 16, extend the low-income children’s health insurance program, or CHIP, for six years and suspend some Obamacare taxes for two years. McConnell’s office said the GOP leader was coordinating with the White House on all the developments, including Schumer’s White House meeting.
Schumer has proposed a shorter stop-gap measure, lasting just four or five days, to be used as a hard deadline on an agreement on government spending levels and DACA.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who is opposed to the 30-day spending bill on the table, said he’d support an extension of just a few days. “We’re inside the 10 yard line on five issues we need a process to close the deal. And we need the president to do it,” Graham said.
McConnell and Republicans say that Democrats are blocking health care for children. On the Senate floor he said Schumer is leading “his own troops into a box canyon and then tells them it was all for nothing. Maybe it’s time to come back to reality.”
Senators spent the day waiting for an update and contemplating which party will get blamed if the government does shut down. And both parties claim that the crisis is manufactured — by the other side.
"I don’t understand why amnesty for DACA residents is an emergency. Nobody is being deported," Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said.
Sen. John Tester, R-Mont., called the Republican bill "irresponsible."
"I’m not going to vote for this. It’s very irresponsible. It doesn’t do what this country needs at all," Tester said.
Tester is one of ten Democrats up for re-election in states that Trump won. The only two of those Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., are the only two Democrats who have come out in support of the Republican CR, indicating that Democrats think their stand is not politically harmful.
The group of Trump-anointed negotiators, the second-ranking members in each legislative body from each party, were expected to meet again Friday morning. But the meeting never happened and there is nothing yet scheduled. The group was created after Trump railed against the bipartisan agreement reached by Graham and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and made derogatory comments about Haitians and countries in Africa. Durbin is also a member of the group of “number twos.”
At the White House Friday morning, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney briefed the press on the administration’s preparations for a shutdown, saying, “we do not want a shutdown, but if Mr. Schumer insists on it, he is in a position to force this on the American people.” He said Trump is continuing to talk to members of both parties to find a deal.
With the finger-pointing over who would be responsible already underway, a new ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 48 percent of Americans would blame President Trump and Republicans for a shutdown while 28 percent said they would blame Democrats and 18 percent said both parties would be at fault.