Conservatives offer shutdown offramp in exchange for vaccine mandate vote

A group of Senate conservatives are demanding a simple-majority vote on their push to defund President BidenJoe BidenNew York woman arrested after allegedly spitting on Jewish children Former Sen. Donnelly confirmed as Vatican ambassador Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case MORE's vaccine mandate for larger businesses in exchange for agreeing to expedite a short-term government funding deal.  

The push by Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Schumer ramps up filibuster fight ahead of Jan. 6 anniversary MORE (R-Utah), Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHillicon Valley — Senate panel advances major antitrust bill Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine MORE (R-Texas) and Roger MarshallRoger W. MarshallSwalwell slams House Republican for touting funding in bill she voted down The Hill's Morning Report: Biden takes it on the chin GOP senator plans to introduce FAUCI Act after clash at hearing MORE (R-Kan.) comes as Congress has until the end of Friday to pass a funding bill to keep the government open and prevent a shutdown. Because of Senate rules, and the time crunch, any one senator can force the chamber to miss that deadline. 

The three GOP senators said on Thursday that they are willing to help speed up the funding bill, which would keep the government open through Feb. 18, if Senate leadership agrees to hold a vote on their proposal to defund Biden's mandate as an amendment to the funding bill. 

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That vote, conservatives say, would have to be at a simple majority, meaning they would just need to peel off one Democratic senator to get it into the bill. 

"I've offered a very simple solution, a very reasonable solution. ... I just want to vote on one amendment," Lee, who up until Thursday had been publicly tightlipped about his thinking, said during a Senate floor speech.

"A simple up-or-down, yes or no, a simple-majority vote. That's all I'm asking. ... We're providing every opportunity to avoid a shutdown," he added.  

The Senate took a similar vote during the debate over the last short-term government funding bill, but Republicans failed to get it into the bill. Every GOP senator voted for the amendment at the time, but they failed get any Democratic votes and needed support from three-fifths of the Senate to get it into the September funding bill. 

Lee, after his floor speech, said that the amendment had to be at a simple majority, not a 60-vote threshold.  

His position is backed up by the other conservative senators pushing for a vote in exchange for expediting the government funding bill. 

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"I would accept an amendment to vote on it on a simple-majority threshold," Cruz said, while suggesting that he would still vote against the short-term government funding bill if the amendment isn't included.

Marshall added that he, Lee and Cruz will be talking to leadership about how to get an amendment vote. 

“Sen. Lee, Sen. Cruz and myself will be talking with leadership and seeing what that amendment opportunity looks like,” he said. 

"We're not OK with a 60-vote threshold. We've already been done that road," he added. 

Democratic leaders haven't yet said if they are willing to give the conservatives a vote on their amendment at a simple-majority threshold.  

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Predictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure Voting rights and Senate wrongs MORE (D-N.Y.) warned earlier Thursday that if there was a government shutdown, Republicans would be blamed. 

“Unfortunately, it seems Republican dysfunction could be a roadblock to averting an unnecessary and dangerous government shutdown,” he said.

Republicans indicated after a closed-door lunch that the standoff with Lee remained unresolved. One GOP senator told The Hill that Republicans are trying to convince Lee to back down on his demand for a vote and instead use next week's vote on Biden's vaccine mandate, which Republicans are able to force under the Congressional Review Act, as a substitute.

But, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 WATCH: The Hill recaps the top stories of the week Effort to overhaul archaic election law wins new momentum MORE (R-Ky.), during a Fox News interview, predicted that there wouldn't be a shutdown and poured cold water on the conservative threat to shut down the government over Biden's vaccine mandate. 

"I don't think shutting down the government over this issue is going to get an outcome. It would only create chaos and uncertainty, so I don't think that's the best vehicle to get this job done," he said.

Updated at 3:06 p.m.