With shutdown nearing, focus turns to Rand Paul

With shutdown nearing, focus turns to Rand Paul
© Greg Nash

All eyes are on Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP leader blocks resolution backing intelligence community on Russia Rand Paul blocks Sanders's Russia resolution, calls it 'crazy hatred' against Trump McCain: Trump plays into 'Putin's hands' by attacking Montenegro, questioning NATO obligations MORE, the senator seen as the most likely to force a temporary shutdown and keep the Senate in session all weekend over a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill.

The Kentucky Republican, who opposes the package as wasteful spending, caused a brief shutdown in February when he refused to agree to a unanimous consent request that would have sped the chamber toward a final vote.

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He’s been mum on his plans this week, but in a Wednesday afternoon tweet signaled distaste for the approaching legislation and any Republican who might back it.

“It’s a good thing we have Republican control of Congress or the Democrats might bust the budget caps, fund planned parenthood and Obamacare, and sneak gun control without due process into an Omni...wait, what?” he wrote in a tweet loaded with sarcasm.

Earlier in the day, Paul said he was undecided on the legislation — but took a shot at leadership for not getting a bill out earlier.

“It’s inexcusable that there’s no bill and people are asking how we’re going to vote on a bill that doesn’t exist yet, so whoever is in charge of this ought to actually put the bill forward,” he said.

Paul took abuse from his colleagues in February with his one-man stand against a budget deal that paved the way for the omnibus.

The delay kept the Senate in session until nearly 2 a.m. — hours after a midnight deadline to prevent a shutdown. The House had to vote at 5:30 a.m. to end the shutdown.

Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials MORE (R-Texas) called him “grossly irresponsible” and said he was guilty of “bad behavior.” Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyJuan Williams: Putin wins as GOP spins Five things to watch for in Trump-Putin summit GOP senators visited Moscow on July 4, warned Russia against meddling in 2018 election: report MORE (R-Ala.) said Paul was “tilting at windmills.”

Perhaps the most-pointed insult came from a House Republican, Rep. Charlie DentCharles (Charlie) Wieder DentLots of love: Charity tennis match features lawmakers teaming up across the aisle Ex-lawmakers see tough job market with trade groups Dem, GOP groups prepare spending blitz for midterms MORE (Pa.), who noted that one of Paul’s neighbors had assaulted him.

“When Rand Paul pulls a stunt like this, it easy to understand why it’s difficult to be Rand Paul’s next door neighbor,” Dent said.

Paul’s colleagues are now wary of a March rerun.

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenators share their fascination with sharks at hearing Helsinki summit becomes new flashpoint for GOP anger Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash MORE (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, acknowledged it could be “challenging” to get Paul, and possibly other Republican critics of the bill, to agree to speed up time and pass legislation before a midnight Friday deadline.

If Congress doesn’t take action by then, it would force a shutdown.

“My assumption is that we’ll have members who will want to take some time to look it over and they deserve to have the right to do that, so we’ll see how that affects our schedule going into the weekend,” Thune said with a laugh, asked about conversations with Paul.

Cornyn noted that he hadn’t spoken with Paul but “anything can happen around here.”

Asked, separately, if lawmakers might need a stop-gap measure to buy time, Cornyn said it was “too soon” to tell but predicted members would want time to review the bill.

“You know things can happen pretty quickly around here when everybody agrees on the desire to get out of town, but this is a big deal. ... So I think we just need to do our due diligence first, and worry about when we leave second,” he said.

House Republicans initially expected to pass the colossal funding bill last week in order to give the Senate enough time to maneuver around procedural hurdles that can eat up days of time.

Instead, the deadline for releasing the bill slipped and slipped. At press time, congressional negotiators still had yet to release their bill.

If the House passes the bill and sends it to the Senate on Thursday, the earliest it could get an initial vote in the Senate — without unanimous consent — would be early Saturday morning, roughly an hour after the deadline to prevent a shutdown.

Paul, who ran for president in 2016, is seen as a senator who revels in media attention. Paul’s office blasted out praise of his tactics in the February standoff.

The February fight wasn’t the first time Paul irritated his colleagues by holding them up.

In 2015, amid his bid for the White House, Paul forced a brief lapse of parts of the Patriot Act after he denied multiple requests by Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell spokesman on Putin visit: 'There is no invitation from Congress' Overnight Defense: Trump inviting Putin to DC | Senate to vote Monday on VA pick | Graham open to US-Russia military coordination in Syria Senate to vote Monday on Trump's VA nominee MORE (R-Ky.) for the Senate to fast-track a temporary extension.

In both cases, GOP leaders failed to give themselves enough time to overcome a push by a single senator to force days of debate time.

This time around, GOP senators appear to be in the dark about Paul’s intentions. The issue, lawmakers said, did not come up during a closed-door caucus lunch on Tuesday.

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) acknowledged that Paul could force a brief partial closure, calling it his “prerogative.”

“It might be that, God forbid, we have to work through the weekend, and I say that sarcastically,” he said.

Shelby separately predicted that “Senator Paul well, he’s Senator Paul.”

Shelby didn’t respond to a question about what exactly that means.