Lawmakers shrug off shutdown drama

Call it the tranquil shutdown.

As the government careened toward a partial closure Friday night, lawmakers in both parties did a peculiar thing: they started heading home.

The absence of urgency — and the utter disregard for the bad optics of conceding failure before the clock ran out — strikes a sharp contrast with spending impasses of the past.

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Previous debates were marked by a fierce scramble to find agreement right up to the deadline — complete with marathon midnight meetings and wee-hour floor votes — followed by hours or days of frantic negotiations to reopen the government, if only as a public demonstration of congressional competence.

Not this time.

As roughly a quarter of the federal government went dark at midnight Friday, there were few signs of life in the Capitol. The halls echoed with emptiness as leaders in both parties had departed hours before and many rank-and-file lawmakers were already on planes back home for the December holidays.

Saturday was little different. A handful of reporters roamed the halls of the cavernous Capitol, but few lawmakers were to be seen.

Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerEx-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program Gardner to lead new GOP super PAC ahead of midterms MORE (R-Colo.) brought cookies to cloakroom staff. Sen. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanTrump getting tougher for Senate GOP to ignore Former NFL player challenging Boozman in Arkansas GOP primary Senate GOP opens door to earmarks MORE (R-Ark.), who presided over the chamber when it convened at noon, joked as he headed onto the floor that the day wasn’t likely to be “very action-packed.”

Rep. Marcy KapturMarcia (Marcy) Carolyn KapturAcquiescing to Berlin, emboldening Moscow and squeezing Kyiv: Biden and Nordstream 2 OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats lay out vision for Civilian Climate Corps | Manchin to back controversial public lands nominee | White House details environmental justice plan Democrats lay out vision for Civilian Climate Corps MORE (D-Ohio) walked over to the Senate, where she hoped to take a photo of the “negotiators” to share with her district. She found a pack of reporters who were standing in an otherwise empty hallway, who warned her there was little to see. Kaptur settled for a snapshot of the journalists and left.

Less than 24 hours after the shutdown began, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: 'It never occurred to me' convincing Americans to get vaccinated would be difficult The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal MORE (R-Ky.) adjourned the upper chamber until next week, assuring the impasse will extend at least until Christmas Eve.

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyDemocrats ramp up pressure for infrastructure deal amid time crunch Overnight Defense: Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill | House panel looks to help military sexual assault survivors | US increases airstrikes to help Afghan forces fight Taliban On The Money: Schumer, Warren call on Biden to extend student loan pause | IMF estimates 6 percent global growth this year MORE (R-Ala.), who headed to the airport after meeting with Vice President Pence, said there’s “no deal.” He appeared unconcerned that when the Senate reconvened the partial shutdown will have lasted for almost a week. The Senate’s next session, he asked, “will be here, what? Thursday?”

“Merry Christmas,” he added.

The House was even less active. Although Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Juan Williams: Biden's child tax credit is a game-changer Trump clash ahead: Ron DeSantis positions himself as GOP's future in a direct-mail piece MORE (R-Wis.) gaveled in the chamber at noon, he allowed for little business beyond the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer by the House chaplain, Rev. Pat Conroy, who urged lawmakers to be cognizant of those “whose lives are made all the more difficult by a failure to work out serious differences.”

Ryan then gaveled the chamber into a six-hour recess. The session had lasted a minute and 55 seconds.

The muted atmosphere played itself out again and again around the Capitol, described by one senator as a “ghost town,” in the anticlimactic first day of a partial shutdown that is impacting roughly 25 percent of the government and furloughing hundreds of thousands of federal employees.

Chaplain Barry Black prayed for the Senate to be rescued "from the pitfalls of political brinkmanship.”

Departing Rep. Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress READ: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results MORE (R-Texas) told reporters on Saturday a few feet off the Senate floor that he hoped “cooler heads” could prevail and a deal could be reached before Monday. Sitting next to him was his suitcase; he was heading to the airport to go back home — and said he’s encouraging “everybody I’ve talked to” to do the same.

A deal could be cleared by unanimous consent, he predicted, adding: “They’re not going to call people back.”

Some lawmakers who had stuck it out and stayed in Washington overnight gave up by Saturday afternoon as the prospects of a quick deal began to fade.

Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.) was seen leaving the Capitol complex sporting a “We The People” hat and pulling a roller board suitcase behind him.

“I’m going home,” he told The Hill.  

The drama largely played out off the floor as lawmakers huddled with President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt MORE at the White House and Pence conducted shuttle diplomacy around the Capitol. Neither meeting, though, appeared to move Washington closer to a deal to reopen the shuttered government.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsWashington Post calls on Democrats to subpoena Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Meadows for testimony on Jan. 6 Trump to Pence on Jan. 6: 'You don't have the courage' Trump said whoever leaked information about stay in White House bunker should be 'executed,' author claims MORE (R-N.C.) said he plans to fly home Sunday in the wake of the Senate’s announced inactivity. The North Carolina Republican said that, while conservatives don’t support the Democrats’ spending offer, it largely comes down to what the White House and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy Pelosi, Schumer vow climate action: 'It is an imperative' MORE (D-N.Y.) can work out.

"Since the Senate just recessed I'll probably fly home tomorrow," he said.

McConnell donned a red vest and red socks, joking with reporters as he walked toward his office on Saturday morning that it was the “closest I’m going to get to Christmas.”

But by late Saturday afternoon both chambers had packed it in, with the House announcing next votes wouldn’t take place until at least Dec. 27. Shelby, returning from the meeting at the White House, indicated a deal was likely days away.

Asked why he thought that as he got an elevator to escape dozens of reporters, Shelby quipped: “Reality.”