All eyes on Paul with shutdown looming

As the Senate barrels toward the third government funding deadline of the year, Republicans appear in the dark about one key question: What will Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSunday shows preview: Trump readies for meeting with Putin McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh MORE (R-Ky.) do?

The libertarian-minded senator caused an hours-long shutdown in February. He's yet to say if he'll give a repeat performance going into the midnight Friday deadline to avoid a partial closure.

"Shame, shame. A pox on both Houses — and parties. $1.3 trillion. Busts budget caps. 2200 pages, with just hours to try to read it," he tweeted on Thursday. 

Republican leadership wants to pass the omnibus funding bill Thursday, but senators acknowledged that timeline all comes down to Paul, and they appear to have no idea what he is going to do.

Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynSunday shows preview: Trump readies for meeting with Putin GOP moderates hint at smooth confirmation ahead for Kavanaugh GOP senators introduce resolution endorsing ICE MORE (R-Texas) noted he has not spoken to Paul but predicted with a smile: "He'll speak up."

"I think people realize the handwriting is on the wall," he said. "I just figured I would let him speak up if he wants to speak, and if he doesn't we'll vote."

Asked about the chamber's timeline for voting, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKavanaugh gets questionnaires for confirmation hearing Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick Franken offers Dems a line of questioning for Kavanaugh's 'weirdly specific bit of bulls---' MORE (R-Ky.) added, "Whenever Sen. Paul decides we can."

Under the Senate's rules the earliest the Senate could hold an initial vote would be early Saturday morning — roughly an hour after the midnight deadline to avoid a partial government closure. 

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) signaled earlier Thursday that he was undecided on whether he would let the chamber speed up votes. He said after a closed-door caucus lunch that he wouldn't delay the bill.  

"I'm not going to try to delay it out of respect for my colleagues," he said. 

Republican senators said Paul's plan did not come up during the lunch, which was largely a tribute to retiring Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranTodd Young in talks about chairing Senate GOP campaign arm US farming cannot afford to continue to fall behind Mississippi Democrat drops Senate bid MORE (R-Miss.). 

"There are a lot of people who are going to put pressure on him," said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.).

Asked if there was an effort to "prevail" on Paul, he added: "There always is. I'm not being cute. I think there always is an effort. ... There's no benefit to waiting at this point."

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyGOP senators visited Moscow on July 4, warned Russia against meddling in 2018 election: report Senate battle over court nominee threatens to stymie legislative progress Overnight Defense: House passes 5B defense spending bill | Pentagon moving forward on Trump military parade | Mattis vows 'ironclad' support for South Korea's defense MORE (R-Ala.), asked if the Senate would be able to vote on Thursday, pointed to the Kentucky senator.

"Have y’all spoken to Sen. Paul?" he asked reporters. "Felt his pulse?”