Senate Democrats block defense spending bill over Trump wall

Senate Democrats blocked a defense spending bill for the second time on Thursday, underscoring the hurdles ahead of next month’s government funding deadline.

Senators voted 51-41 on whether to advance a spending package that was expected to include the defense funding. The bill needed 60 votes to advance.

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Democrats warned ahead of time that they would oppose taking up the bill until lawmakers get a deal on top-line spending figures known as 302(b)s. They previously blocked the defense spending bill in September. 

“The Republican leader has been accusing Democrats of threatening to block military funding. Now, that is an absurd statement if there ever was one. We’re simply trying to stop Republicans from stealing money from our military and putting it into the wall,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats press Trump, GOP for funding for mail-in ballots Schumer doubles down in call for Trump to name coronavirus supply czar Trump lashes out at Schumer over call for supply czar MORE (D-N.Y.) said ahead of the vote. 

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerProcedural politics: What just happened with the coronavirus bill? DC argues it is shortchanged by coronavirus relief bill Lysol, disinfecting wipes and face masks mark coronavirus vote in House MORE (D-Md.) sent a letter this week to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill On The Money: Economy sheds 701K jobs in March | Why unemployment checks could take weeks | Confusion surrounds 9B in small-business loans 13 things to know for today about coronavirus MORE (R-Ky.) asking that they “take a meaningful step forward and work together with us to reach bipartisan agreement on 302(b) allocations for all twelve appropriations bills.”

“Such an agreement is necessary for appropriators and all of our Members to do their jobs and fund our national priorities,” he wrote.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed its defense spending bill along party lines after Republicans rejected an amendment that would have prevented President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump fires intelligence community inspector general who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Trump organization has laid off over 1000 employees due to pandemic: report Trump invokes Defense Production Act to prevent export of surgical masks, gloves MORE from redirecting money toward the border wall without congressional signoff. 

Republicans blasted Democrats for blocking the defense bill, noting that it comes even as they’ve recently criticized Trump’s Syria strategy. 

“The same Democrats who recently rediscovered hawkish sounding positions on Syria and the Middle East are really going to filibuster a $755 million for the counter ISIS train and equip fund for Iraq and Syria? And filibuster all the other broader funding of our armed services? Really?” McConnell asked.

He added that the “core message here is hard to miss. Our Democratic colleagues have a priority list, picking fights with the White House is priority No. 1.”

“My Democratic colleagues seem more focused on scoring political points than ensuring our military has the certainty and funding it needs to counter our adversaries. ... Funding America’s military should be our priority — it should come first,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyFive things being discussed for a new coronavirus relief bill Infrastructure bill gains new steam as coronavirus worsens Coronavirus bill includes more than billion in SNAP funding MORE (R-Ala.) said ahead of the vote. 

The stalemate comes roughly an hour after the Senate approved its first four fiscal 2020 bills, each of which passed out of the Appropriations Committee with bipartisan support.

Lawmakers have until Nov. 21 to pass the 12 fiscal year appropriations bills or another continuing resolution. 

Both Shelby and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyHouse Democrats unveil coronavirus economic response package Biden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins Trump, Congress struggle for economic deal under coronavirus threat MORE (D-N.Y.) have said another continuing resolution will be necessary. The stopgap bill could last until February or March. 

“That’s what’s going to happen,” Lowey said about the timeline on Thursday 

There are several hurdles to avoiding a government shutdown next month. 

In addition to defense spending, lawmakers need to work out the 302(b)s and come to an agreement on whether to backfill $3.6 billion Trump shifted from military construction projects toward the wall as part of an emergency declaration. The House military construction and veterans affairs bill does not include the replenished funding. Senators haven’t unveiled their bill, which is expected to include the funding. 

They also need to come to an agreement on border funding. Democrats believe Senate Republicans have padded the Department of Homeland Security with extra wall money. 

“Democrats will not vote to proceed to a bill that steals money from our troops and their families. Republicans know it’s a nonstarter. ... There is nowhere close to the necessary votes in the Senate for President Trump’s border wall and, of course, there is not in the House. So this is just a show vote,” Schumer added on Thursday. 

Trump has requested $8.6 billion for the wall as part of his 2020 budget request — a figure that cannot pass both chambers of Congress.

White House legislative director Eric Ueland told reporters this week that Trump was “very committed to the wall” as part of the government funding negotiations.

“We sent forward a budget earlier this year that had a complete amount of spending on the wall and we're going to fight very hard for all those resources as well as the president's ability to have access to resources in order to fully fund the wall,” he said.

Niv Elis contributed