Bipartisan group of senators will urge Trump to reopen government for 3 weeks

But there are already signs of pushback from Republicans, who worry about breaking with Trump in the border wall fight, and Democrats, who are skeptical of signing onto the letter without a firm grasp on GOP support.
"I hope by the end of today we have a robust, bipartisan letter that we can deliver to the president. But you've sure got people who are pushing back in their caucus and that's striking to me,” Coons, referring to Republicans, said after a closed-door lunch Wednesday.
Coons added that if those pushing for the letter can’t get enough support then it was his “view” that they wouldn’t send it at all, though he caveated that it could just be delayed until after Wednesday and that Republicans are still reviewing a draft of the letter and asking questions.
The letter is the latest effort by a group of centrist senators to break the entrenched stalemate between Trump and congressional Democratic leadership, as the shutdown is in Day 26 with no clear path toward an agreement.
Lawmakers in the letter ask Trump to support a three-week continuing resolution (CR) in exchange for taking up his border wall request as a supplemental appropriations bill, according to senators who have signed onto it.

"Why not work it through the proper channels, which is what some of the most seasoned statesmen have recommended. And that's how the letter came about," Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinFormer coal exec Don Blankenship launches third-party presidential bid Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Overnight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics MORE (D-W.Va.), who has signed the letter, said when asked about the pitch to get Republicans to back the effort.

Graham — who along with Coons is circulating the letter among senators — separately told reporters that he was backing a stopgap bill with the understanding that "we're going to try to get a deal."

"I've come to conclude that Democrats are not going to negotiate with government shut down. If people at the White House don't like hearing that, I don't know what to tell them other than what I actually think," Graham said. "I'm running out of ideas."


Members of the bipartisan group on Wednesday declined to say how many lawmakers would sign on to the letter, noting they were still building support.

Graham and a group of GOP senators were discussing a similar proposal last week, but it hit an impasse amid the standoff between Trump and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Trump tweets on Yovanovitch show his 'insecurity as an imposter' On The Money: Trump asks Supreme Court to block Dem subpoena for financial records | Kudlow 'very optimistic' for new NAFTA deal | House passes Ex-Im Bank bill opposed by Trump, McConnell Overnight Defense: Ex-Ukraine ambassador offers dramatic day of testimony | Talks of 'crisis' at State Department | Trump tweets criticism of envoy during hearing | Dems warn against 'witness intimidation' | Trump defends his 'freedom of speech' MORE (D-Calif.).

Roughly a dozen senators, including Graham and Manchin, huddled Monday night in an office in the Capitol basement to try to craft an agreement.

Their efforts have been meet with resistance from both the White House and GOP lawmakers, who are skeptical the group could craft something that would win over Trump.

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyOn 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 Overnight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule Lawmakers aim for agreement on top-line spending by next week MORE (R-Ala.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he will not sign the bipartisan letter.

"I work within the structure, I work with the leader and the leader has said he's not bringing up anything until the president agrees to sign on to it," Shelby said.


Meanwhile, Democrats are wary of signing onto a letter without knowing that a significant number of Republican senators were also willing to endorse the idea.

Coons said there are Democratic senators who are waiting to see how many, or if, GOP senators beyond Graham and a handful of moderates sign onto the letter.

"There's no point in doing this if it's four of us, 10 of us, the whole point is to show broad bipartisan engagement around a simple premise: Mr. President reopen the government, we are serious about trying to work together to address border security … give us a brief period to work that through,” Coons said.

He added that if Trump is lobbying against the letter within the Republican caucus “then the letter won’t go anywhere,” but if the White House was interested in seeing if there is bipartisan support for working on border security “then they should let the letter move ahead."

Sen. 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.) said Wednesday that he is among the group of senators reviewing the letter, but didn’t indicate if he would sign onto it.

Cardin indicated that he didn’t have concerns about the “message” of the letter—”open government and let us work the process”—but wanted to see how many senators would back it.

“I think there is an effort being made to see how many members are prepared to say that,” Cardin said. “We’re trying to do this in a way that it would be constructive.”

Democrats previously backed a seven-week CR only for Trump to decide that he would not support it without additional border money.

Senate Democrats have tried to keep public pressure on Trump and Senate Republicans to fully reopen the government before a deal on border security funding is negotiated.

Trump said Monday that he wasn't "interested" in Graham's earlier proposal to reopen the government, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Trump asks Supreme Court to block Dem subpoena for financial records | Kudlow 'very optimistic' for new NAFTA deal | House passes Ex-Im Bank bill opposed by Trump, McConnell Top House Democrats ask for review of DHS appointments Warren promises gradual move toward 'Medicare for All' in first 100 days MORE (R-Ky.) has said for weeks that he would not bring up a bill that wasn't supported by the president.

The Kentucky Republican reiterated Wednesday that the way out of a partial shutdown was an agreement between Democratic leaders and Trump.

"The only way out of this impasse is a bipartisan agreement, and as the Democratic leader and I have both stated here on the floor, only an all-corners, bipartisan agreement will receive a vote here in the Senate," McConnell said.


Graham indicated on Tuesday evening that he was still pushing the proposal with his colleagues, despite Trump's earlier comments.

"I can't guarantee you an outcome if you give us three weeks, but I can pretty well guarantee you we're going nowhere quick doing what we're doing," he told reporters.

Graham added that while Trump had previously rejected such a proposal, he hoped Trump would "strongly consider" giving Congress a few weeks if they were able to put together the letter with bipartisan support.

Updated: 4:02 p.m.