Democrats plan to jam up Senate over shutdown fight

Senate Democrats are playing hardball as they try to strong-arm Republicans to buck President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE and bring up legislation to end the partial government shutdown.

A growing number of Senate Democrats, backed by progressive outside groups, are calling on the caucus to filibuster any legislation until Republicans give a vote to a House-passed package to fully reopen the government.

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Senate Democrats are in the minority, but if they are able to unite 41 of their 47 members behind the strategy they can grind the Senate to a standstill in an effort to ratchet up pressure on Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families On The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings MORE (R-Ky.), who has refused to take up any government funding bill not supported by the president.

Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary Schumer blocks drug pricing measure during Senate fight, seeking larger action MORE (D-N.Y.) handed the effort a significant boost on Monday, when he began telling colleagues he would vote against taking up a foreign policy bill on the Senate floor this week because of the shutdown fight.

“Schumer has notified the Dem caucus that he will vote against proceeding to S.1 because Senate Republicans should instead bring to the floor the House-passed bills to reopen the government,” a senior Senate Democratic aide said.

The escalation in shutdown tactics comes as the partial funding lapse is in its third week with no signs of progress toward a deal that would reopen roughly a quarter of the government.

Recent talks among Vice President Pence, administration officials and congressional leadership staff appeared to go nowhere. In a sign of digging in — and raising the chances that the funding fight surpasses the 21-day record — Trump is expected to give a prime-time address on Tuesday before traveling to the border Thursday, which would be the 20th day of the shutdown.

With Trump holding firm in his demand for more than $5 billion for the wall, Democrats are trying to keep their strategy focused on exploiting early signs of division within the Senate GOP caucus. The Democratic-led House is expected to begin passing individual appropriations bills this week, a move aimed at pressuring McConnell and vulnerable incumbents up for reelection in 2020. 

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Senate Democrats are more limited in their options — they could try to force a vote, but Republicans could easily block them — but the chamber’s rulebook does give them enough leverage to throw up roadblocks and keep the upper chamber from considering any other legislation during the shutdown fight.

The senior Democratic aide added that Schumer has only made a decision about how to proceed on the foreign policy bill, which will face a key test vote on Tuesday night. Republicans haven’t announced what other bills they might want to bring up during the shutdown. Democrats, meanwhile, are expected to discuss strategy for non-government-funding legislation more broadly during their caucus meetings this week.

Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Senate Foreign Relations chair: 'Best' not to pass Turkey sanctions bill 'at this moment' On The Money: Retirement savings bill blocked in Senate after fight over amendments | Stopgap bill may set up December spending fight | Hardwood industry pleads for relief from Trump trade war MORE (D-Md.) publicly began pitching the idea of a legislative blockade over the weekend and has been privately talking to his colleagues, according to a Democratic aide. Van Hollen, speaking at a roundtable in Maryland on Monday, said Democrats were uniting behind the strategy that “we shouldn’t be doing unrelated business” until the Senate passes government funding bills.

“It is the position that I’ve got, and I think the great majority of Senate Democrats, that in the United States Senate the first order of business has to be reopening the government,” Van Hollen said.

More than a dozen Senate Democrats, including potential 2020 White House contenders, are publicly backing Van Hollen’s plan.

Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Overnight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule Democratic senators introduce bill to push ICE to stop 'overuse' of solitary confinement MORE (D-Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Following school shooting, Biden speaks out: 'We have to protect these kids' MORE (D-Mass.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocratic senators introduce bill to push ICE to stop 'overuse' of solitary confinement Krystal Ball: Patrick's 2020 bid is particularly 'troublesome' for Warren 2020 Democrats demand action on guns after Santa Clarita shooting MORE (D-N.J.), all considered possible presidential candidates, and Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyOvernight Energy: Perry replacement faces Ukraine questions at hearing | Dem chair demands answers over land agency's relocation | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders unveil 0B Green New Deal public housing plan Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders unveil 0B Green New Deal public housing plan Senate committee advances budget reform plan MORE (D-Ore.), a potential dark horse contender, threw their support behind the strategy on Monday.

“[McConnell] should immediately allow a vote on the bipartisan bills the House already passed to reopen the government— until that happens, [Senate Democrats] should block consideration of all unrelated bills,” Booker said in a tweet.

Merkley told CNN’s “New Day” that the Senate’s schedule “cannot be business as usual if we shut down a quarter of the government and just leave it shut down.”

In addition to Van Hollen, Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Health Care: Democratic gains mark setback for Trump on Medicaid work requirements | Senate Dems give Warren 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder | Judge strikes Trump rule on health care 'conscience' rights Democrats give Warren's 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder Former NAACP president to run for Cummings's House seat MORE (D-Md.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Senators press FDA tobacco chief on status of vaping ban Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising MORE (D-Va.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerHillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day Microsoft embraces California law, shaking up privacy debate Google sparks new privacy fears over health care data MORE (D-Va.), who all have large populations of federal workers in their home states, are supporting the strategy. Roughly 800,000 federal employees have either been furloughed or forced to work without pay.

“The Senate should vote on nothing else until we vote to reopen the government. Period. This shutdown is squeezing the finances of so many Americans, including thousands of federal workers who live in Virginia. As leaders, we can’t just whistle past the graveyard of this crisis,” Kaine said in a tweet.

Progressive groups that have frequently questioned Schumer’s willingness to play hardball are seizing on the strategy. Indivisible, a national progressive group, is urging its members to call senators and tell them “no votes on other legislation until the government gets reopened.”

The strategy will face its first test on Tuesday night, when Democrats will need to put up 41 votes to block a foreign policy bill that would include new sanctions against the Syrian government, as well as bolster U.S. support for Israel and Jordan.

Democrats were coming under fire over the bill because it includes a provision to counter the “boycott, divestment, sanctions” (BDS) movement by opposing boycotts or divestment from Israel.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, said it was “outrageous” for Republicans to be “prioritizing” the bill, adding that “not a single Democrat should vote to enable this farce.”

The American Civil Liberties Union also sent a letter to senators Monday urging them to oppose the foreign policy bill because of the anti-BDS provision.

“To be clear: this bill is not about Israel and Palestine but rather about whether states can treat individuals differently based on the political positions they choose to express,” the group wrote. “Moreover, the Senate should not be considering any legislation until it upholds its duty of maintaining a full and functioning government.”