Cracks beginning to show in GOP shutdown resolve

Republican unity on the partial government shutdown is starting to crack in the face of a tough election map in 2020 and no end in sight to the standoff that has hobbled key departments and agencies. 

At least three Senate Republicans on Thursday called on Congress to move on legislation to reopen federal agencies — or as many as possible — that have been shuttered since Dec. 22. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGraham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies Senate GOP eyes 'nuclear option' for Trump nominees next week Taiwan’s President Tsai should be invited to address Congress MORE (R-Ky.) has declared any legislation passed by the House to fully reopen federal agencies will be a non-starter in the Senate, but he may have trouble keeping all his troops in line. 

McConnell has tried to keep his conference out of the fray altogether by insisting any government funding deal depends on negotiations between President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump claims media 'smeared' students involved in encounter with Native American man Al Sharpton criticizes Trump’s ‘secret’ visit to MLK monument Gillibrand cites spirituality in 2020 fight against Trump’s ‘dark’ values MORE and Democratic leaders. 

GOP lawmakers, feeling nervous about the prospect of a shutdown dragging on for weeks, are starting to weigh in. 

Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees Overnight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal MORE (R-Colo.), who in the last Congress served as a member of the GOP leadership, on Thursday said Congress should act to reopen government even without a deal on President Trump’s demand to allocate $5.6 billion for a border wall. 

“I think we should pass a continuing resolution to get the government back open. The Senate has done it last Congress, we should do it again today,” Gardner said Thursday, referring to the stopgap spending measure the Senate passed before Christmas, which would have funded federal agencies through Feb. 8. 

Senate Republicans thought Trump would sign it into law but he surprised them at the last minute by announcing his opposition, triggering a partial government shutdown on Dec. 22. 

Gardner says Congress should give Trump $1.3 billion or $1.6 billion for border fencing — numbers already agreed to by Senate Democrats — and negotiate for more funding while government agencies are open. 

“We can pass legislation that has the appropriations number in it while we continue to get more but we should continue to do our jobs and get the government open and let Democrats explain why they no longer support border security,” he said. 

Gardner is one of several Senate Republicans facing tough reelection battles in 2020, and his home state of Colorado has been hit hard by the shutdown. 

So far the state has lost nearly $24 million in revenue because of closed national parks, and more than 7,000 Coloradans lost pay, at least temporarily, according to Colorado’s other senator, Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetCracks beginning to show in GOP shutdown resolve WHIP LIST: Who’s in and out in the 2020 race Would-be 2020 Dem candidates head for the exits MORE (D). 

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonElise Stefanik seeks to tackle GOP’s women ‘crisis’ ahead of 2020 Russian pop star linked to Trump Tower meeting cancels US tour Graham angers Dems by digging into Clinton, Obama controversies MORE won Colorado by 5 points in 2016. 

Senate Republicans have to defend 22 seats in this election cycle while Democrats must protect 12. GOP incumbents will likely face tough races in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina. 

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Dec. 27 showed that only 25 percent of respondents nationwide support Trump shutting down the government to get leverage for the border wall.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback The Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World Overnight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal MORE (R-Maine), who also faces a potentially tough race in 2020, says Congress should pass the six spending bills not related to Homeland Security so other federal agencies not touched by the border controversy can resume work as soon as possible. 

“It would be great to have them signed into the law because there is not great controversy over them. And at least we'd be getting those workers back to work," Collins said Thursday.

Clinton also carried her state in 2016. 

The shutdown has affected operations at the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, State, Transportation and Treasury in addition to Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over the border. 

Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) on Thursday said she wants the government shutdown to end as soon as possible. 

“I’d like to see it stop,” she said, indicating that she might back moving the six noncontroversial funding bills separately “if that’s what it takes” to minimize the impact of the standoff. 

Capito, however, would prefer moving all seven stalled funding bills together, including the one she crafted as chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security. 

She has argued for moving that bill — which includes $1.6 billion for border fencing and which most Democrats on the Appropriations Committee voted for in June — along with the others. 

“That’s the strategy I’ve been advocating. Let the bill that passed the Senate [Appropriations Committee] be the default bill on the Senate floor, and we may end up there,” she said. 

Capito said the Senate may end up taking up legislation the House is expected to pass late Thursday that would include six of the stalled appropriations bills and a short-term measure funding the Department of Homeland Security. 

“I think what will happen is the House bill will come over here and we amend with the Senate bill in. That’s the strategy that’s being talked about. I just think it’s still so up in the air,” she said. 

Sen. Mike RoundsMarion (Mike) Michael RoundsGrassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices Trump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Senators look for possible way to end shutdown MORE (R-S.D.) said “nobody likes CRs,” referring to continuing resolutions to temporarily fund the government, “but shutting down the government is a bigger mistake than a CR.” 

Rounds said he would support a stopgap measure that includes “some kind of an agreement that there’s some funding” that Trump could claim as a partial victory on border security. 

“I just think not having the government open is the wrong message to send to the people of this country. It says we can’t do our jobs. It says we’re not working with people that may have a differing point of view,” he said. 

"If the president can agree to something that says 'I will reopen government because I think I've made some progress here' — to give us another 20 days or 30 days or whatever — I don't think there would be anyone who would disagree with that," he added. 

Trump has invited congressional leaders back to the White House at 11:30 a.m. Friday for another round of talks but both sides appear dug in, with the president insisting on $5.7 billion for border fencing and Democrats insisting they won’t go above $1.3 billion. 

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyCentrist efforts to convince Trump to end shutdown falter Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks Leaders nix recess with no shutdown deal in sight MORE (R-Ala.) on Thursday raised the prospect that the standoff over the border wall could drag on for months. 

"I'm thinking we might be in for a long haul here. ... A long haul — in other words, I don't see any quick resolution to this," Shelby told reporters.

Shelby said he would like to pass six or all seven of the remaining funding bills but acknowledged the decision is McConnell’s. 

“I would like to move six or seven but that’s beyond me,” he said. 

A newly retired House Republican lawmaker told The Hill on Thursday that GOP moderates will be under intense pressure to pass a short-term funding measure even if it doesn’t give Trump nearly as much money as he wants for the wall. 

“I think they will be under tremendous pressure to take the deal. I think it’s a good deal,” he added, noting that six of the spending bills are “Republican-negotiated bills” and have nothing to do with the border. 

Jordain Carney contributed.