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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 GardnerOvernight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all Dem group launches ads attacking Trump's 'hypocrisy on Medicare and Medicaid cuts' Trump keeps tight grip on GOP MORE (R-Colo.) brought cookies to cloakroom staff. Sen. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanGOP senators read Pence riot act before shutdown votes On The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions 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 Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans House Dems call on leadership to prioritize opioid epidemic Lawmakers shrug off shutdown drama 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 McConnellTrump: Green New Deal 'the most preposterous thing' and 'easy to beat' 2020 Dems avoid this year's AIPAC conference GOP eager to exploit Dem court-packing fight MORE (R-Ky.) adjourned the upper chamber until next week, assuring the impasse will extend at least until Christmas Eve.

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyFive takeaways from Trump's budget Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Trump unveils 2020 budget | Calls for cuts to NIH | Proposes user fees on e-cigs | Azar heads to Capitol to defend blueprint | Key drug price bill gets hearing this week Trump's emergency declaration looms over Pentagon funding fight 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 RyanFormer Dem candidate says he faced cultural barriers on the campaign trail because he is working-class Former House candidate and ex-ironworker says there is 'buyer's remorse' for Trump in Midwest Head of top hedge fund association to step down 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 SessionsAs Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges Top Ukrainian justice official says US ambassador gave him a do not prosecute list Dem campaign chief: Medicare for All price tag 'a little scary' 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 TrumpSenate GOP budget ignores Trump, cuts defense Trump says he'll nominate Stephen Moore to Fed White House: ISIS territory in Syria has been 100 percent eliminated 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 MeadowsJordan, Meadows backed by new ads from pro-Trump group: report Trump keeps tight grip on GOP Dems fear Trump is looking at presidential pardons 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 Schumer4 in 5 Americans say they support net neutrality: poll GOP senator: Trump's criticism of McCain 'deplorable' Schumer to introduce bill naming Senate office building after McCain amid Trump uproar 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.”