This week: No signs of urgency as shutdown enters fourth week

Greg Nash

The record-breaking partial shutdown is entering its fourth week with no clear path forward to reopen the government.

The funding lapse became the longest in modern history on Saturday, its 22nd day, surpassing the 21-day record previously set during the Clinton administration. Monday marks the 24th day of the shutdown.

But the historic nature of the shutdown is being met by a relatively quiet start to the week in Washington, where a weekend snowstorm blanketed the area with 8 to 12 inches of snow. Though roughly a quarter of the government has been closed since Dec. 22, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced on Sunday night that all D.C.-based federal government offices would be closed Monday because of the weather.

As of Sunday night, neither the House or Senate had announced formal changes to the start of their work week, with both chambers expected to convene on Monday evening. House members could see votes delayed until Tuesday due to the snowstorm over the weekend, but no final decisions have been made.

President Trump is doubling down on his public requests for Democrats to come to the White House and negotiate a deal with him to fully reopen the government.

“I’m in the White House, waiting. The Democrats are everywhere but Washington as people await their pay. They are having fun and not even talking!” Trump said in a tweet on Sunday amidst the snowstorm.

He added in a separate tweet on Saturday that “Democrats should come back to Washington and work to end the Shutdown, while at the same time ending the horrible humanitarian crisis at our Southern Border. I am in the White House waiting for you!”

But, according to polls released over the weekend, Trump and Republicans are bearing the brunt of the blame for the partial shutdown. Fifty-three percent of respondents in a Washington Post-ABC poll said the president and Republicans were to blame, compared to 29 percent who blame congressional Democrats. Fifty-five percent of respondents to a separate CNN poll said they believed the president was responsible for the shutdown.

Trump, however, is showing no signs of backing down from his demand for more than $5 billion for the border wall.

Negotiations between congressional Democrats and the president are at a standstill. Trump stormed out of a White House meeting last week after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she would not negotiate on the border wall even if Trump first agreed to fully reopen the government.

No other meetings between leadership and Trump are currently scheduled. A group of Senate moderates tried to break the stalemate by floating linking consideration of border funding to a deal on “Dreamers,” immigrants who came into the country illegally as children. The talks derailed amid pushback from the White House and skepticism from Democrats.

When, or how, the partial shutdown finally ends is unclear. Administration officials told The Hill that the Office of Management and Budget is gearing up for the partial shutdown to continue through February, and White House aides have discussed using Trump’s Jan. 29 State of the Union address to knock Democrats over their opposition to building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The House passed a package earlier this month that would have fully reopened the government by funding the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8 and the rest of the impacted agencies through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. They’ve begun passing individual appropriations bills, though they’re expected to go nowhere in the Senate.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pledged that he will not bring up a bill that isn’t backed by Trump. The Senate GOP leader blocked two House bills late last week that would have reopened the government.

Several GOP senators have bristled at the strategy, arguing that Congress should either pass the House bills or a continuing resolution (CR) so that the government could reopen while Trump and Democrats fight over the border wall. But, so far, none have tried to force a vote.

The House could potentially take up measures to fund the remaining agencies this week, in addition to disaster relief for states hit by recent storms and wildfires.

“It will provide relief and recovery assistance for Americans affected by recent hurricanes, some of which were historic in their power and devastation — wildfires, typhoons and other natural disasters,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on the floor.  “We will also consider additional legislation related to fiscal year 2019 appropriations.”

Barr hearing

William Barr, Trump’s attorney general nominee, is heading to Capitol Hill for a two-day public grilling.

Barr is expected to testify before the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and Wednesday as part of the Senate confirmation process.

Barr, who formally served in the role during the George H.W. Bush administration, is expected to face extensive questioning on one topic in particular: special counsel Robert Mueller.

Barr’s nomination hit controversy after The Wall Street Journal reported that he sent an unsolicited email to the Trump administration saying the Mueller investigation was based on a “fatally misconceived” theory and would do “lasting damage” to the presidency.

Republicans have sought to defended Barr, arguing his opinions as a private citizen are different from how he would act if confirmed. Trump’s nominee has also tried to reassure senators during private one-on-one meetings over the past week.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the newly minted Judiciary Committee chairman, told reporters after his meeting that Barr committed to letting Mueller’s investigation finish. Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) separately said some of Barr’s answers on Mueller were “very encouraging.”

But Democrats are expected to demand public commitments from Barr as part of the hearing.

The public hearing will come as tensions around the Russia probe are already running high following a New York Times report over the weekend that the FBI launched an inquiry into whether Trump was working for Russia shortly after he fired then-FBI Director James Comey in 2017.

The bureau, according to the Times, probed if the president was a threat to national security or was carrying out an anti-American agenda on behalf of Russia.

Since the Times report, Trump has renewed his attacks on Comey, who the president has said he fired because of the Russia investigation. Trump, in a string of tweets, called the day of Comey’s firing a “great day for America,” referring to the former FBI director as a “crooked cop.”

“Funny thing about James Comey. Everybody wanted him fired, Republican and Democrat alike. After the rigged & botched Crooked Hillary investigation,” Trump added.

Russia sanctions

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is expected to force a vote this week on the Trump administration’s decision to ease Russia sanctions.

The administration announced plans to relax sanctions on the three businesses — Rusal, EN+ and EuroSibEnerg — connected to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin briefed House lawmakers on the decision last week.

“After consultation with the relevant committee ranking members and my colleagues, I have concluded that the Treasury Department’s proposal is flawed and fails to sufficiently limit Oleg Deripaska’s control and influence of these companies, and the Senate should move to block this misguided effort by the Trump Administration and keep these sanctions in place,” Schumer said in a statement on Sunday.

Though Democrats are in the minority, Schumer is able to force a vote on a resolution of disapproval under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

In order to pass the resolution Democrats will need to win over a majority of the Senate. With 47 votes, that means Schumer and Democrats will need to flip four GOP senators.

Foreign policy bill

The Senate is poised to vote for a third time on a foreign policy bill that includes sanctions against the Syrian government and bolsters U.S. security support for Israel and Jordan.

Senators will take an initial procedural vote on Monday at 5:30 p.m., where 60 votes will be needed in order to advance the legislation. With Republicans holding a 53-47 majority, they would need seven Democratic senators in order to get over the roadblock.

So far, only four Democrats have voted to advance the bill: Sens. Doug Jones (Ala.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Bob Menendez (N.J.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.).

Democrats are blocking the bill as they try to pressure McConnell to bring the House-passed government funding bills to the floor. They’re also also under pressure to oppose the legislation because of a provision meant to counter the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (DBS) movement against Israel.  

Republicans have slammed Democrats for the hardball tactics, arguing that they are shutting down the Senate.

“They’ve put that partisan tantrum ahead of keeping a quarter of the government open and now they’re saying their partisan tantrum is more urgent than pressing legislation that concerns our alliances with Israel and the Syrian civil war,” McConnell said from the Senate floor last week.

Tags Charles Schumer Christopher Coons Donald Trump Dreamers Government shutdown James Comey Joe Manchin Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Robert Mueller Russia sanctions sanctions Senate Steny Hoyer Steven Mnuchin

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