Congress looks for way out of government shutdown

Congressional leaders are scrambling to wriggle their way out of a government shutdown that went into effect shortly after midnight when the Senate defeated a House-passed stopgap spending measure.

While both sides face risks from a prolonged shutdown, neither party is giving significant ground and the White House says it will not negotiate on the issue that triggered the stalemate: how to replace an Obama-era program that allows certain immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children to work and go to school here.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerRepublican senator says plans to confirm justice before election 'completely consistent with the precedent' Video of Lindsey Graham arguing against nominating a Supreme Court justice in an election year goes viral Graham signals support for confirming a Supreme Court nominee this year MORE (D-N.Y.) immediately after the failed vote called for a White House summit between congressional leaders and President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden leads Trump by 36 points nationally among Latinos: poll Trump dismisses climate change role in fires, says Newsom needs to manage forest better Jimmy Kimmel hits Trump for rallies while hosting Emmy Awards MORE to hash out a broad deal on immigration, spending caps and disaster relief.

ADVERTISEMENT

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOcasio-Cortez to voters: Tell McConnell 'he is playing with fire' with Ginsburg's seat McConnell locks down key GOP votes in Supreme Court fight Video shows NYC subway station renamed after Ruth Bader Ginsburg MORE (R-Ky.), echoing the White House, sought to instead stick to a deal close to the House bill rejected by most Senate Democrats — while shortening that stopgap measure from four to three weeks.

McConnell said it would take at least that long to put together a complicated spending deal.

“You can’t reach an agreement and snap your fingers and everything [falls] into place and you’re ready to go,” he said, arguing that negotiators need “a reasonable period” to work out differences.

Democrats blocked McConnell from getting a quick vote on the revised proposal, signaling they want more from a deal.

“There is a path forward. We can reach it quickly, tomorrow,” Schumer said. “The president and the four leaders should immediately sit down and finish this deal so the entire government can get back to work on Monday.”

Republicans appeared confident throughout the day that they were winning the public relations game over the shutdown. They argue Democrats forced the shutdown by demanding action to help the so-called Dreamers covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that Trump is ending.

Polls show a majority of voters back a solution that would allow these immigrants to stay in the United States, but also that a majority does not think the government should be shut down over the issue.

ADVERTISEMENT

Democrats, for their part, believe Republicans will take the blame because the GOP holds the White House and Congress. They also think Trump’s bellicose remarks about immigration play into their hands.

A Washington Post poll released on Friday showed more people think Republicans would be to blame for a shutdown than Democrats, by 20 points.

Schumer blamed Trump for walking away from a deal on immigration during a meeting at the White House Friday afternoon, even though Schumer said he was willing to discuss the president’s top priority: the border wall. 

“He walked away from two bipartisan deals, including one today in which I even put the border wall on the table. What will it take for President Trump to say 'yes' and learn how to execute the rudiments of government?” Schumer said.

But Trump on Saturday morning cast blame on Democrats for deciding to "play shutdown politics" when they "could have easily made a deal."

In the hours leading up to the shutdown, Democrats were still jockeying to get a DACA fix attached to the spending bill, according to multiple senators. Intertwining the two issues has been a non-starter for GOP leadership on both ends of the Capitol.

But Democrats wanted an insurance policy in case the bipartisan DACA legislation that McConnell promised to put on the Senate floor went nowhere in the House.

“They had concerns about if they pass a bill out of the Senate, will it be heard in the House,” said Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerHas Congress captured Russia policy? Tennessee primary battle turns nasty for Republicans Cheney clashes with Trump MORE (R-Tenn.). “They would like for [DACA] to be attached to a must-pass piece of legislation.”

Members were coming over to Schumer during the tense negotiations on the Senate floor and urging him to just resolve the issue, according to Sen. John CornynJohn CornynCalls grow for Biden to expand election map in final sprint Bipartisan praise pours in after Ginsburg's death Chamber of Commerce endorses McSally for reelection MORE (R-Texas).

Cornyn said the two sides were at an impasse not over the length of the three-week stopgap — but over the Democratic demands to attach DACA to the funding bill.

“That part was where there wasn’t agreement,” said Cornyn, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican.

Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersGOP set to release controversial Biden report Democrats fear Russia interference could spoil bid to retake Senate Biden promises Democratic senators help in battleground states MORE (D-Mich.), however, said that Democrats felt at one point that they were close to clinching the deal.

“We thought we came fairly close to resolving it,” he said. “Unfortunately, it came up short.”

Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneWhat Senate Republicans have said about election-year Supreme Court vacancies The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Don't expect a government check anytime soon The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Trump contradicts CDC director on vaccine, masks MORE (R-S.D.), the Senate’s No. 3 Republican, disputed that notion.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I don’t think it was going to happen,” Thune said. “I think [Democrats] had to prove that they followed through on their threat to shut down the government.”

McConnell did not respond directly to Schumer’s call for a summit meeting, but said the Senate will reconvene at noon and that votes would likely be later in the day.

“It’s my hope that an agreement can be reached. We’ll be here in session tomorrow working to finally resolve the way forward,” he said.

House lawmakers were told that they should expect to reconvene at 9 a.m. on Saturday.

If the talks stretch into the weekend, the logistics will become more complicated as the House is scheduled to be on recess next week.

Republicans have insisted that Democrats agree to expanded authorities for border patrol agents, along with construction of the wall, something Democrats have balked at so far.

Sen. James LankfordJames Paul LankfordMcConnell works to lock down GOP votes for coronavirus bill Charities scramble to plug revenue holes during pandemic Warren calls for Postal Service board members to fire DeJoy or resign MORE (Okla.), a Republican who has been involved in the immigration talks, said that appropriating $2 billion to $4 billion a year for several years would be enough to satisfy Trump’s demand to build a wall.

ADVERTISEMENT

Increased authority for law enforcement is a trickier subject.

“I hear more balking about all the authorities around it than the border wall itself,” he said.

One question is how much access should border patrol agents get for roads through protected national monument areas.

Another is whether to expedite deportation proceedings for people apprehended crossing the border illegally.

Despite pledges from both sides to work together, they didn’t waste any time Saturday morning blaming each other for the shutdown.

“What we 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. A government shutdown was 100 percent avoidable,” McConnell said on the floor.

Schumer said that Trump’s actions at a White House meeting Friday when he dismissed Democratic demands made it seem he was “rooting for a shutdown.”

ADVERTISEMENT

“The blame should crash entirely on President Trump’s shoulders,” he said.

Rank-and-file members jumped into the blame game as well.

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) charged it was “totally irresponsible for the Democrats to use government funding as a bargaining chip.”

Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Democratic-linked group runs ads in Kansas GOP Senate primary Trump mocked for low attendance at rally MORE (Mo.), a Democrat who voted for the four-week House continuing resolution, said she was “disappointed” Trump put out a statement that “tried to divide us based on party when it came to the support of our military.”

The White House press secretary said earlier in the evening that Democrats had “put politics above our national security” because the House spending measure included defense spending. 

— Updated Jan. 20 at 8:17 a.m.