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 Gardner The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation Bolton returns to political group after exiting administration The Hill's Morning Report — Trump's hurricane forecast controversy won't go away MORE (R-Colo.) brought cookies to cloakroom staff. Sen. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanVA chief pressed on efforts to prevent veteran suicides McConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen 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 KapturTen notable Democrats who do not favor impeachment Congresswoman 'all good' after car crushed by construction equipment House passes legislation aimed at stabilizing multiemployer pension plans 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 McConnellDC statehood push faces long odds despite record support Overnight Energy: California, 23 other states sue Trump over vehicle emissions rule | Climate strike protests hit cities across globe | Interior watchdog expands scope of FOIA investigation | Dems accuse officials of burying climate reports Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts MORE (R-Ky.) adjourned the upper chamber until next week, assuring the impasse will extend at least until Christmas Eve.

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyMcConnell support for election security funds leaves Dems declaring victory Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg courts critics on Capitol Hill | Amazon makes climate pledge | Senate panel approves 0M for state election security House votes to avert shutdown, fund government through November 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 RyanDemocrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate Krystal Ball touts Sanders odds in Texas 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 SessionsHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council Lawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure As Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges 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 TrumpAlaska Republican Party cancels 2020 primary Ukrainian official denies Trump pressured president Trump goes after New York Times, Washington Post: 'They have gone totally CRAZY!!!!' 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 MeadowsClarence Thomas, Joe Manchin, Rudy Giuliani among guests at second state visit under Trump The Hill Interview: Sanford says Trump GOP doing 'serious brand destruction' GOP signals unease with Barr's gun plan 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 SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSchumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill Sinema says she would back Kennedy in race against Markey Democrats threaten to withhold defense votes over wall 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.”