Senate rejects funding bill, partial shutdown begins
Senators voted late Friday to reject a House-passed bill that would have funded the government until Feb. 16, beginning a partial government shutdown.
Most Democrats voted to block the bill as part of a risky strategy to force Republicans to negotiate with them on a legislative fix for “Dreamers,” immigrants who illegally came to the country at a young age and now face the prospect of deportation. The procedural motion on the bill failed 50-49.
Only five Democrats voted to advance the bill — Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.), who are all up for reelection this year in states carried by President Trump in 2016 election, and newly elected Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.).
Republicans were also not united, as Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Mike Lee (Utah) and Jeff Flake (Ariz.) also voted against advancing the legislation. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is battling brain cancer, was absent.
The procedural vote remained open for roughly two hours on Friday night, remaining well below the needed 60 votes to pass.
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney issued a memorandum instructing agencies to begin a shutdown.
The memo said that because OMB does not have a clear signal from Congress that it will act to fund the government, it is necessary to execute plans “for an orderly shutdown” due to the absence of appropriations.
It said OMB would offer additional guidance as appropriate.
While a partial shutdown has started, Mulvaney earlier in the day suggested the negative effects of a shutdown would not completely be felt until Monday, when hundreds of thousands of workers would be furloughed.
The closure will mark the first time that the government has been shuttered since 2013, when a shutdown carried on for 16 days as a band of Republicans tried to dismantle ObamaCare.
Republicans are blaming Senate Democrats for the latest shutdown, arguing their refusal to agree to a one-month stopgap passed on a largely party-line vote in the House caused the shutdown.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) delayed the vote until late Friday evening as part of an effort to raise pressure on Democrats.
A meeting at the White House earlier on Friday between Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and President Trump failed to break the stalemate, though both sides said some progress had been made.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Schumer said he had made concessions in the talks with Trump, even offering to consider his proposal for a southern border wall — an idea that Democrats had long called a non-starter.
McConnell in his own floor speech castigated Democrats, saying they have forced a “completely avoidable” shutdown.
“What we have just witnessed on the floor was a cynical decision by Senate Democrats to shove aside millions of Americans for the sake of irresponsible, political games,” he said from the Senate floor.
The funding fight is set to spill over into Saturday, when both the House and Senate will be in session.
McConnell late Friday announced he would move to amend the government funding bill so that it funds the government until Feb. 8.
A vote on that bill could be held Saturday, but it’s unclear whether it will pass. Schumer said congressional leaders should meet at the White House with Trump to finalize an agreement on immigration and the broader government funding package.
Republicans and Democrats spent most of Friday blaming each other for the looming shutdown.
“This is completely unfair and uncompassionate for my Democratic colleagues to filibuster government funding, harm our troops and jeopardize health coverage for 9 million children because extreme elements of their base want illegal immigration to crowd out every other priority,” McConnell said.
He says immigration reform should be handled separately from the spending bills and wants Trump to sign off on an immigration deal before it comes to the Senate floor.
Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) took to the floor after McConnell to blast Republicans for failing to make substantial progress after Trump tasked Congress with replacing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
“So what has the Republican majority in the House and Senate done in the four and a half months since we received that challenge from President Trump? Nothing. Nothing,” he said
Trump administration officials hoped up until the last moment that Democrats would change their mind and vote for the House-passed stopgap, even though they made it clear they saw it as unacceptable.
White House legislative affairs director Marc Short told reporters Friday evening that he still hoped that Democrats would let the House bill pass.
Negotiations on an immigration proposal to grant legal status to “Dreamers” and boost security along the U.S.-Mexico border seemed to go backwards.
The No. 2-ranking leaders in both chambers, Durbin, Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), had been tasked with leading the immigration talks.
But a meeting of these four leaders that had been scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Friday, and then postponed to 1 p.m., never happened.
Instead, Cornyn and McCarthy met separately and reported making some progress.
Cornyn applauded Trump for rejecting a bipartisan Senate deal crafted by three Democrats and three Republicans, including Durbin, Flake and Graham.
“The president did the right thing. He told him look, you go back and you talk to the Speaker and the Senate majority leader and you guys work that out,” Cornyn said, summarizing Trump’s conversation with Schumer about immigration earlier in the day.
Facing a stalemate on immigration, Schumer has shifted the argument slightly by arguing that Democrats are justified in opposing the short-term spending bill because funding the government with a series of stopgaps creates uncertainty for defense and nondefense programs.
In an unusual move, the Democratic leader decried the potential impact on the military, which is usually a Republican talking point.
“The Pentagon thinks this [continuing resolution] is wrong for our military,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday night, reading a statement from a Dana White, the chief Defense Department spokeswoman, who called the succession of stopgap spending measures “wasteful and destructive.”
Schumer also wants to negotiate an extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program for longer than the six-years included in the House bill, as well as higher spending caps for domestic federal programs.
But the stalemate over immigration policy is the biggest holdup.
Republicans oppose the bipartisan bill favored by the Senate Democratic leadership, arguing it does not do enough to enhance border security.
Updated at 1:30 a.m.
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