Senate Republicans are signaling they will do just about anything to prevent a second shutdown after the White House was widely seen as badly losing the political fight over the closure that ended with President Trump’s retreat on Friday.

Republicans are in no mood to be dragged back into another partial closure in mid-February, the deadline to get a deal on spending for roughly a quarter of the government.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), modifying a well-known quote, told reporters Tuesday that “there certainly would be no education in the third kick of the mule.”

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“I don’t like shutdowns. I don’t think they work for anybody, and I hope that they would be avoided,” McConnell said. “I’m for whatever works, which means avoiding a shutdown and avoiding the president feeling that he should declare a national emergency.”

Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, characterized a shutdown as a “pox on all of our houses.”

“I think the leader wants to see a result come from this,” said Thune. “There’s no appetite for government shutdowns and there is not much appetite for an emergency declaration for a lot of reasons.”

The wariness on Capitol Hill comes as Republicans emerge from a bruising, 35-day funding fight where they watched a majority of Americans in poll after poll blame the GOP and Trump for the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

The White House, however, has kept open the possibility of a repeat shutdown, just as spending negotiations are set to formally kick off Wednesday. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters this week that she would not “get into the hypotheticals of taking that off the table.”

Senate GOP leaders stuck with the president over the fight for his proposed border wall, a key 2016 campaign issue for Trump that remains a potent force among the party’s base. But the threat of another government shutdown could test their unity, especially after six GOP senators voted for a Democratic-backed continuing resolution last week that didn’t include wall funding and after Republicans blistered Vice President Pence during a closed-door lunch.

“There is a building consensus on both sides of the aisle that shutdowns don’t make sense and that we ought to put legislative prohibitions in place to keep us from ever shutting down again,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said Tuesday.

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Republicans, aware of the political challenges of getting a final funding deal, are stopping short of predicting there will not be a shutdown starting Feb. 16.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said he is “cautious, guarded, anxious.”

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), one of the 17 lawmakers on the conference committee tasked with crafting spending legislation to avert a shutdown, told a West Virginia radio station that while an agreement “wouldn’t be easy” it also wasn’t “impossible.”

Getting a deal that breaks the stalemate between Trump, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) will be no small task. Trump has insisted on $5.7 billion for a border wall, and Democratic leaders have indicated they won’t meet his demand.

Democrats are feeling bullish after Trump agreed to temporarily reopen the government without a guarantee on border funding, and they’ll face pressure from their base to draw a hard line. Meanwhile conservatives, angry over last week’s deal, want Trump to make good on his campaign pledge of building the wall.

“I’m very hopeful. I think that a good number of our Republican colleagues don’t want to shut down the government,” Schumer said. “You know, we’ll have to see if they’re willing to break from the president or if the president moves off his hard and fast position.”

Underscoring their eagerness to avoid a second shutdown, GOP senators are throwing out a myriad of ideas that they hope will entice Democrats to agree to more border funding, like attaching a potential debt ceiling increase or a long-sought fix to protect Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program recipients.

“I’ve always thought the bigger the project, a lot of things fit in and bring a lot of people to vote for something they might not vote for ordinarily,” Shelby said. “Other people would argue that the narrower the scope, you’re just dealing with the essentials.”

McConnell, meanwhile, refused to shoot down adding unrelated issues to a funding agreement, saying he’s for “narrow or broader,” whichever can result in a deal that can clear Congress and that Trump sign.

“Exactly how to do that, as you all know, has been quite challenging,” he said. “I’m for whatever works.”

But trying to attach a DACA fix to a long-term funding deal would likely open up a Pandora’s box of other immigration issues, including the fate of some temporary protected status (TPS) holders and cuts to legal immigration sought by Trump.

Democrats are skeptical of tying in comprehensive immigration reform, arguing the president can’t be trusted to keep his word. Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat and a member of the conference committee, told reporters Tuesday that he did not think a larger immigration deal was on the table.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that Democrats would soon bring bills to the floor dealing with DACA and TPS, but he doesn’t foresee them being discussed in the conference committee.

“I don’t expect that to be part of the negotiations. I expect, as normal conference committees are, they’re going to talk about how to achieve the objectives,” Hoyer told reporters Tuesday, adding that the objective is to “secure borders.”

Democrats also appeared to reject an idea floated by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close ally of Trump’s, of dropping the debt ceiling into the border negotiations. Schumer argued there shouldn’t be any more “hostages.”

“We ought to be negotiating to get an agreement, not add added elements into it,” he said.

The result, Thune predicted to reporters, could be a narrower agreement that resolves the border wall fight. Trump and Democrats remain far apart on the amount of funding.

In a potential sign of progress, both Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) indicated they were open to fencing that stopped short of a full-scale border wall.

“We do not support a medieval border wall from sea to shining sea. However, we are willing to support fencing where it makes sense,” Jeffries said. “But it should be done in an evidence-based fashion.”

Mike Lillis and Cristina Marcos contributed.

The negotiators
These 17 lawmakers are tasked with negotiating a deal on border security that would pave the way for passage of the seven remaining appropriations bills needed to fund a quarter of the government.

Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.)
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas)
Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.)
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas)
Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.)
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.)
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.)
Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.)
Rep. David Price (D-N.C.)
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.)

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.)
Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.)
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.)

Tags Barbara Lee border security Charles Schumer Chuck Fleischmann David Price Dick Durbin Donald Trump Government shutdown Hakeem Jeffries Immigration John Hoeven John Thune Jon Tester Kay Granger Lindsey Graham Lucille Roybal-Allard Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Nita Lowey Patrick Leahy Pete Aguilar Richard Shelby Rob Portman Roy Blunt Shelley Moore Capito Steny Hoyer Steven Palazzo Tom Graves

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