All eyes on Paul with shutdown looming

As the Senate barrels toward the third government funding deadline of the year, Republicans appear in the dark about one key question: What will Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSome employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump says Dems inflated Puerto Rico death toll | House cancels Friday votes | Florence starts to hit coast The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Facing major hurricane, Trump is tested MORE (R-Ky.) do?

The libertarian-minded senator caused an hours-long shutdown in February. He's yet to say if he'll give a repeat performance going into the midnight Friday deadline to avoid a partial closure.

"Shame, shame. A pox on both Houses — and parties. $1.3 trillion. Busts budget caps. 2200 pages, with just hours to try to read it," he tweeted on Thursday. 

Republican leadership wants to pass the omnibus funding bill Thursday, but senators acknowledged that timeline all comes down to Paul, and they appear to have no idea what he is going to do.

Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn CornynKavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow Grassley: Kavanaugh accuser 'deserves to be heard' in 'appropriate' manner MORE (R-Texas) noted he has not spoken to Paul but predicted with a smile: "He'll speak up."

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"I think people realize the handwriting is on the wall," he said. "I just figured I would let him speak up if he wants to speak, and if he doesn't we'll vote."

Asked about the chamber's timeline for voting, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMurkowski echoes calls for Kavanaugh, accuser to testify McConnell rips Democrats for handling of Kavanaugh nomination Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow MORE (R-Ky.) added, "Whenever Sen. Paul decides we can."

Under the Senate's rules the earliest the Senate could hold an initial vote would be early Saturday morning — roughly an hour after the midnight deadline to avoid a partial government closure. 

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) signaled earlier Thursday that he was undecided on whether he would let the chamber speed up votes. He said after a closed-door caucus lunch that he wouldn't delay the bill.  

"I'm not going to try to delay it out of respect for my colleagues," he said. 

Republican senators said Paul's plan did not come up during the lunch, which was largely a tribute to retiring Sen. Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranGOP Senate candidate to African Americans: Stop begging for 'government scraps' Trump endorses Hyde-Smith in Mississippi Senate race GOP Senate candidate doubles down on Robert E. Lee despite Twitter poll MORE (R-Miss.). 

"There are a lot of people who are going to put pressure on him," said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.).

Asked if there was an effort to "prevail" on Paul, he added: "There always is. I'm not being cute. I think there always is an effort. ... There's no benefit to waiting at this point."

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyCongress reaches deal to fund government through Dec. 7, preventing shutdown Senate approves first 2019 spending package GOP shrugs off Trump shutdown threat MORE (R-Ala.), asked if the Senate would be able to vote on Thursday, pointed to the Kentucky senator.

"Have y’all spoken to Sen. Paul?" he asked reporters. "Felt his pulse?”