Senate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller
McConnell blocks House bill to reopen government for second time
Senate Republicans blocked a House-passed package to reopen the federal government for a second time in as many weeks on Tuesday.
One bill would fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8, while the other would fund the rest of the impacted departments and agencies through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
Under Senate rules, any senator can ask for consent to vote on or pass a bill, but any senator can object. McConnell blocked the two bills, saying the Senate wouldn't "participate in something that doesn't lead to an outcome."
McConnell for weeks has said he would not bring legislation to the floor on the shutdown unless there was a deal between President Trump and Democrats on border security, the issue that has triggered the shutdown. McConnell has described other votes as "show votes."
"The solution to this is a negotiation between the one person in the country who can sign something into law, the president of the United States, and our Democratic colleagues," McConnell said Tuesday.
Roughly a quarter of the government has been shut down since Dec. 22 over an entrenched fight on funding for Trump's proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
The Senate passed a stopgap bill late last year by a voice vote, but it was rejected by the White House because it didn't include extra border money.
Trump is demanding more than $5 billion for his signature wall. Democratic leadership has pointed to $1.3 billion as their cap and argued that it must go to fencing.
House Democrats passed their package to fully reopen the government earlier this month and have begun passing individual appropriations bills as they try to ratchet up pressure on Republicans to break with the president and support the legislation. But those bills are expected to go nowhere in the GOP-led Senate.
McConnell sought to drive a wedge between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Democrats earlier Tuesday, characterizing the newly minted House leader as making border security "take a back seat to the political whims of the far left."
"Here in the Senate my Democratic colleagues have an important choice to make. They could stand with common sense border experts, with federal workers and with their own past voting records, by the way, or they could continue to remain passive spectators complaining from the sidelines, as the Speaker refuses to negotiate with the White House," McConnell said from the Senate floor.
Talks between Trump and congressional leadership are at a standstill after the president walked out of a White House meeting last week when Pelosi told him that Democrats would not consider border wall funding even if he fully reopened the government.
Democrats are trying to build pressure on McConnell to break with Trump and move legislation, something Senate GOP leadership say the careful Republican leader will not do.
Though several senators are publicly picking their own ideas, Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said on Tuesday that hasn't resulted in much pressure from within the caucus for McConnell to change his strategy.
"Our members are, you know, they're going to make their positions known, nobody will be shy about that," Thune told reporters. "But in the end, having a vote in the Senate I think has to be on something that not only can pass here but that can be signed into law by the president."
But Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged McConnell to get involved in the talks on Tuesday, touting his previous role as a deal-maker who could resolve sticky political stalemates.
"There's only one person who can help America break through this gridlock: Leader McConnell. For the past month Leader McConnell has been content to hide behind the president, essentially giving him a veto over what comes to the floor of the Senate," Schumer said.
He added that if McConnell brought up the House bills to fully reopen the government he believed they would receive a "significant," "veto-proof" majority. McConnell has said the House bills cannot pass the Senate.
Cardin also appealed to McConnell after the GOP senator blocked his request on Tuesday, describing the Senate as "missing in action."
"We're a co-equal branch of government. Let us speak about opening government. There are members on both sides who understand that we can debate border security and we can reach agreements, but you can't do that with a partial government shutdown," Cardin said.
Several GOP senators have backed either taking up the House bills or passing a continuing resolution (CR) to reopen most or all of the government while Democratic leadership and Trump continue to fight over border security.
A group of Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), were negotiating last week on a plan to reopen most of the government in exchange for the Senate taking up Trump's border request, including an additional $7 billion sent in a request earlier this month. To help win over Democrats, there were talks about a deal on "Dreamers," immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.
But those talks derailed, senators said, because of intransigence by Trump and Pelosi. A bipartisan group, involving many of the same senators, also met on Monday night to discuss a similar framework but made little progress toward breaking the shutdown stalemate.
Trump on Monday wasn't interested in the idea of temporarily reopening the government. But Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who took part in both talks, said Tuesday that he hoped the president changed his mind.
"We ought to take the president's request, immediately consider it ... add to it whatever we need to do to get a result, send it to him, sign it and in the meantime open the government up," Alexander told WREC, a Tennessee radio station.
Alexander acknowledged that the idea of reopening the government for roughly three weeks wouldn't gain traction without Trump's support, adding, "I'm hoping the president changes his mind. This is the way you get a result."
Updated at 12:15 p.m.