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 TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' 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 McConnellMcConnell challenger faces tougher path after rocky launch Funding a strong defense of our nation's democratic process can't wait The Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants MORE (R-Ky.), who has refused to take up any government funding bill not supported by the president.

Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTop Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Trump administration denies temporary immigrant status to Venezuelans in US 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 Energy: USDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move west | EPA hails Trump's work on reducing air pollution | Agency eyes reducing inspections of nuclear reactors USDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move to Kansas City Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens 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 HarrisWhat to expect when Mueller testifies: Not much Biden compares Trump to George Wallace CNN Democratic debate drawing finishes third in cable news ratings race MORE (D-Calif.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenJulián Castro is behind in the polls, but he's finding a niche Gabbard arrives in Puerto Rico to 'show support' amid street protests Democratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall MORE (D-Mass.) and Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerDemocratic strategist predicts most 2020 candidates will drop out in late fall The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over 'send her back' coverage The Hill's Campaign Report: Second debate lineups set up high-profile clash MORE (D-N.J.), all considered possible presidential candidates, and Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDems open to killing filibuster in next Congress Democrats warm to idea of studying reparations Senate Democrat releasing book on Trump admin's treatment of migrants at border 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 CardinCan new US Strategy on Women, Peace & Security give women a real seat at the table? Ask Afghan women Maryland lawmakers slam 'despicable' Trump remark about journalists on newsroom shooting anniversary Democrats leery of Sanders plan to cancel student loan debt MORE (D-Md.), Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineOvernight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Health care moves to center stage of Democratic primary fight | Sanders, Biden trade sharps jabs on Medicare for All | Senate to vote on 9/11 bill next week | Buttigieg pushes for cheaper insulin Health care moves to center stage in Democratic primary fight Dems open to killing filibuster in next Congress MORE (D-Va.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTop Democrats demand security assessment of Trump properties Senate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency at hearing 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.”