Senate pressing ahead on shutdown votes with dim prospects
WASHINGTON — The Senate is pressing ahead with votes on competing Democratic and Republican plans to end the 34-day partial government shutdown, but both measures appear likely to fall victim to a poisonous Washington impasse that shows little sign of easing.
Either measure would reopen federal agencies and pay 800,000 federal workers who are about to miss yet another paycheck. Republicans would couple ending the 34-day shutdown with $5.7 billion for President Donald Trump’s border wall and revamping immigration laws.
Democrats would reopen agency doors through Feb. 8 while bargainers seek a budget accord, an approach that GOP leaders tried last month — only to be undercut by Trump.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the Democratic plan “seeks to be down the middle and reopen government and has received overwhelming support from both sides before President Trump said he wouldn’t do it.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., countered that the GOP proposal is “a compromise package the president will actually sign,” calling Schumer’s alternative a “dead-end proposal that stands no chance.”
It was hoped twin defeats Thursday might spur the two sides into a more serious effort to strike a compromise. Almost every proposal needs 60 votes to advance in the Senate, which is under 53-47 Republican control.
“It’s hard to imagine 60 votes developing for either one,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. GOP moderates such as Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine are expected to vote for the Democratic plan, as is Cory Gardner of Colorado, one of the few Republicans representing a state carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016.
West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin is thus far the only member of his party to signal he’ll cross over to support the GOP package.
The House on Thursday passed the latest in a series of measures aimed at reopening the government with a 231-180 vote to open the Homeland Security Department. It was the 11th attempt to pass a bill ending the shutdown.
With the impacts of the shutdown becoming increasingly painful, however, lawmakers on both sides were trumpeting their willingness to compromise in the battle over border security and immigration issues, such as protection against deportation for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.
“It’s clear what the president wants,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. “It’s clear what we want. If you have a negotiation, both parties are going to put on the table what they want.” He added: “By definition a successful negotiation gets to a place where both sides feel they got something, right?”
“We can work this out,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.
Simply starting the negotiations has been the initial problem. Democrats insist on opening the government first rather than reward Trump’s tactics, while Republicans warn that immediately reopening the government would give Democrats too much leverage in any talks.
Trump’s ex-chief of staff, John Kelly, joined the four other former Homeland Security secretaries in signing a letter urging Trump and his Democratic rivals to end the shutdown.
At a panel discussion held by House Democrats on the effects of the shutdown, union leaders and former Homeland Security officials said they worried about the long-term effects. “I fear we are rolling the dice,” said Tim Manning, a former Federal Emergency Management Agency official. “We will be lucky to get everybody back on the job without a crisis to respond to.”
The partial shutdown began just before Christmas after Trump indicated that he wouldn’t sign a stopgap spending bill backed by top Republicans like McConnell, who shepherded a bill through the Senate that would have funded the government up to Feb. 8. The House passed a plan with money for the wall as one of the last gasps of the eight-year GOP majority.
On Thursday, almost five weeks later, House Democrats continued work on a package that would ignore Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for a wall with Mexico and would instead pay for other ideas aimed at protecting the border.
Details of Democrats’ border security plan and its cost remained a work in progress. Party leaders said it would include money for scanning devices and other technological tools for improving security at ports of entry and along the border, plus money for more border agents and immigration judges.
A poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research was the latest indicator that the shutdown is hurting Trump with the general public. While his approval among Republicans remains strong, just 34 percent of Americans like his performance as president and 6 in 10 assign a great deal of responsibility to him for the shutdown, about double the share blaming Democrats, according to the poll out Wednesday.
The Senate GOP bill would temporarily shield from deportation 700,000 young immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children — a protection Trump has tried terminating. He’s also offered temporary protections for people who fled violence or natural disasters in several countries — another program the president has curtailed.
With Democrats eager to show they’re trying to end the impasse, the House used mostly party-line votes Wednesday to approve one measure that seeks to reopen government agencies through February. By a similar tally, the chamber voted for another measure, which would finance most shuttered agencies through September.
Growing numbers of House Democrats say the party should show where it stands on border security.
“Right now it’s a vacuum and the president is offering fake plans to stop drug smuggling,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. Offering a Democratic alternative “helps the possibility of beginning a real negotiation,” he said.