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 Scott GardnerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue The Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks Hickenlooper beats back progressive challenge in Colorado primary MORE (R-Colo.) brought cookies to cloakroom staff. Sen. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus Artistic Director Tim Seelig says choirs are dangerous; Pence says, 'We have saved lives' 7 GOP senators slam State Dept for 'slow and inefficient policy' on passports The Hill's Coronavirus Report: National Portrait Gallery's Kim Sajet says this era rewiring people's relationship with culture, art; Trump's war with Twitter heats up 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 KapturOvernight Defense: Army now willing to rename bases named after Confederates | Dems demand answers on 'unfathomable' nuke testing discussions | Pentagon confirms death of north African al Qaeda leader Top Democrats demand answers on Trump administration's 'unfathomable' consideration of nuclear testing Overnight Energy: Murkowski, Manchin unveil major energy bill | Lawmakers grill EPA chief over push to slash agency's budget | GOP lawmaker accuses Trump officials of 'playing politics' over Yucca Mountain 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 McConnell'Comrade' Trump gets 'endorsement' from Putin in new mock ad by Lincoln Project ACLU calls on Congress to approve COVID-19 testing for immigrants Carville repeats prediction that Trump will drop out of race MORE (R-Ky.) adjourned the upper chamber until next week, assuring the impasse will extend at least until Christmas Eve.

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyFights over police reform, COVID-19 delay Senate appropriations markups Trump's push for major infrastructure bill faces GOP opposition Watchdogs express concern to lawmakers about ability to oversee coronavirus relief funds 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 RyanBush, Romney won't support Trump reelection: NYT Twitter joins Democrats to boost mail-in voting — here's why Lobbying world 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 SessionsFormer FBI Director William Sessions dies at age 90 Texas kicks off critical battle for House control The Hill's review of John Solomon's columns on Ukraine 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 John TrumpSecret Service members who helped organize Pence Arizona trip test positive for COVID-19: report Trump administration planning pandemic office at the State Department: report Iran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report 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 Randall MeadowsAtlanta airport checkpoint closed after worker tests positive for coronavirus House Republicans urge White House to support TSA giving travelers temperature checks The Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks 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 SchumerRepublicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday Top intelligence officials to brief Gang of Eight on Thursday 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.”