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 GardnerSenate Republicans running away from Alabama abortion law Frustrated GOP senators want answers from Trump on Iran Graham: Trump officials not adequately briefing on Iran threat MORE (R-Colo.) brought cookies to cloakroom staff. Sen. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanTrump's pursuit of infrastructure deal hits GOP roadblock Democrats, making a difference is better than making a point GOP senators read Pence riot act before shutdown votes 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 KapturDems walk Trump trade tightrope Democrats advance spending bills boosting EPA, defying Trump House Dems propose billions in extra funding for environmental programs that Trump sought to cut 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 McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — McConnell, Kaine offer bill to raise tobacco buying age to 21 | Measles outbreak spreads to 24 states | Pro-ObamaCare group launches ad blitz to protect Dems MORE (R-Ky.) adjourned the upper chamber until next week, assuring the impasse will extend at least until Christmas Eve.

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending GOP senator warns Trump, Mulvaney against 'draconian' budget cuts 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 RyanAmash storm hits Capitol Hill Debate with Donald Trump? Just say no Ex-Trump adviser says GOP needs a better health-care message for 2020 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 TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure 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 MeadowsAmash storm hits Capitol Hill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - After GOP infighting, Trump Jr. agrees to testify again On The Money: House chairman issues subpoenas for Trump's tax returns | Trump touts trade talks as China, US fail to reach deal | Five things to know about Trump's trade war with China | GOP offers support for Trump on tariffs 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 wants investigation into Chinese-designed New York subway cars Getting serious about infrastructure Schumer calls on McConnell to hold vote on Equality Act 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.”