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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 SchumerChuck SchumerOvernight Health Care: Moderna to apply for emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine candidate | Hospitals brace for COVID-19 surge | US more than doubles highest number of monthly COVID-19 cases The five biggest challenges facing President-elect Biden Collins urges voters to turn out in Georgia runoffs MORE (D-N.Y.) said ahead of the vote. 

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOvernight Defense: Defense bill among Congress's year-end scramble | Iranian scientist's assassination adds hurdles to Biden's plan on nuclear deal | Navy scrapping USS Bonhomme Richard after fire The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Capital One - Biden unveils batch of his White House team This week: Congress races to wrap work for the year MORE (D-Md.) sent a letter this week to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSenate approves two energy regulators, completing panel On The Money: Biden announces key members of economic team | GOP open to Yellen as Treasury secretary, opposed to budget pick | GAO: Labor Department 'improperly presented' jobless data Senate GOP open to confirming Yellen to be Biden's Treasury secretary 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 TrumpGeraldo Rivera on Trump sowing election result doubts: 'Enough is enough now' Murkowski: Trump should concede White House race Scott Atlas resigns as coronavirus adviser to Trump 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 ShelbyThis week: Congress races to wrap work for the year Incoming Congress looks more like America Congress set for chaotic year-end sprint 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 LoweyThis week: Congress races to wrap work for the year Congress set for chaotic year-end sprint Protect America's houses of worship in year-end appropriations package 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