Government Hurtles Toward Midnight Shutdown

Jan 19, 2018
Originally published on January 22, 2018 12:49 pm

Updated at 11:16 p.m. ET

A partial government shutdown now looks inevitable after the Senate lacks the votes on a stopgap spending bill late Friday night.

The vote was 50-48 in favor of the measure with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., yet to vote.

The White House, Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats were unable to reach a deal to get to the 60 votes needed to proceed after a flurry of meetings, leading to finger-pointing and blame over who was responsible for the unprecedented shutdown on the one-year anniversary of President Trump's inauguration.

Shutdowns are usually the product of divided government, but this likely shutdown would be the first time one occurred when the same party controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House.

Republicans stepped up their attacks on Democrats throughout the day Friday, blaming them for forcing the standoff. McConnell, R-Ky., accused Democrats of using immigration as a bargaining chip in the fight.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., traveled Friday afternoon to the White House to meet with President Trump, and the White House struck an optimistic tone afterward, but ultimately the high-level meeting proved unsuccessful.

Senate Democrats stood firm in refusing to vote for a stopgap measure without an agreement for long-term increases in military and domestic spending and a pathway to citizenship for roughly 700,000 immigrants. Those are individuals who are in the country illegally after being brought here as children and are enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program established by the Obama administration. Those protections from deportation are set to begin expiring in March after the Trump administration announced it was rescinding DACA last year.

McConnell could vote no on the measure for procedural reasons so that he reserves the ability to bring up a substitute bill later. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was not present for the vote.

Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin, W.Va.; Joe Donnelly, Ind.; Heidi Heitkamp, N.D.; and Claire McCaskill, Mo. — all four in competitive re-election races in states that Trump won — ended up crossing party lines to vote for the bill, along with newly-elected Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala. But four Republicans also voted no — Sens. Lindsey Graham, S.C; Rand Paul, Ky.; Mike Lee, Utah; and Jeff Flake, Ariz., meaning that a majority of Republicans failed to vote for the measure.

"I am not going to support continuing this fiasco for 30 more days by voting for a continuing resolution," Graham said Thursday, though late Friday he was pushing for a three-week stopgap measure he said he would be able to support. "It's time Congress stop the cycle of dysfunction, grow up and act consistent with the values of a great nation," Graham also said Thursday.

Democrats launched into a last-minute flurry of talks late Thursday after a House vote to approve a short-term spending bill to keep the government open until Feb. 16 and fund the popular Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, for six years. Schumer and McConnell have said they want to avoid a shutdown, but both Senate leaders have become increasingly insistent that they are unwilling to compromise on their demands.

McConnell and other Republicans argued they had more than a month to agree to an immigration package before DACA is set to expire and called on Democrats to back the short-term bill in order to give them more time to negotiate.

Republicans are already dubbing it the "Schumer Shutdown." The minority leader had warned Republicans that they will not have enough Democratic votes to break the 60-vote filibuster threshold. Late Friday night as the vote happened, the hashtag "TrumpShutdown" was trending across the U.S. on Twitter.

The Senate had convened Friday morning, but lawmakers and aides said even then there was no consensus on how to head off the impending midnight partial government shutdown.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who runs Senate Democrats' 2018 campaign operation, told NPR's Morning Edition Friday that Democrats would support a stopgap measure for three to four days to keep the government running and give negotiators more time to clinch deals in stalled immigration and budget talks.

"I'm not voting for a government shutdown. I'm voting to get an agreement to move forward," Van Hollen said. "Let's stay in. Let's get it done."

Van Hollen also said Trump, not the Democrats, will shoulder the blame if a shutdown occurs. "If the president of the United States, whether by design or incompetence is going to shut down the government, that is a big problem," Van Hollen said. "I hope he will show some leadership; he says he's the great negotiator."

New data seems to agree. A Washington Post-ABC News poll out Friday found that 48 percent of Americans would blame Trump and Republicans for a shutdown, compared with 28 percent who would blame Democrats. The rest of the participants either blamed both equally or had no opinion. A CNN poll also out Friday found similar numbers blaming the president and Republicans in Congress over Democrats, though 56 percent said approving a budget deal was more important than a DACA deal, while just over a third said they wanted an immigration compromise included.

Still, the Trump White House had worked hard to shift blame back to the Democrats.

"There is no way you could lay this at the feet of the president of the United States," said Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, in a press conference Friday morning.

"The reality is Republicans are united in keeping the government open. Democrats are united in trying to shut it down," White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short told NPR's Morning Edition Friday.

Short downplayed the merits of an even shorter stopgap, arguing that negotiators need more time to reach an immigration deal to determine the fate of the hundreds of thousands of people in the DACA program.

"I think we're making progress on DACA, but I think it's unrealistic to think there's going to be a solution in the next five days," Short said.

Republicans have also sought to call attention to what they see as hypocrisy from the Democratic leadership, who loudly criticized Republicans in 2013 when the government last shut down, over Affordable Care Act disagreements.

The House passed the four-week stopgap on Thursday, 230-197, with just six Democrats voting with Republicans. The measure included a six-year renewal of the popular Children's Health Insurance Program and further delays of certain taxes under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

There was ostensibly Democratic support for all of those provisions, but the vast majority of Democrats oppose the stopgap because of the ongoing inability to reach a bipartisan immigration deal. Democrats are also withholding support for a longer-term spending deal until an immigration deal is clinched.

"This vote should be a no-brainer," McConnell said Friday morning on the Senate floor. "And it would be, except the Democratic leader has convinced his members to filibuster any funding bill that doesn't include legislation they are demanding for people who came into the United States illegally."

The president has been an erratic negotiator in recent days, throwing already-contentious talks into disarray. After initially suggesting he would support any bipartisan proposal lawmakers could come up with, Trump rejected a proposal authored by Graham, a Republican, and Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on the advice of more conservative lawmakers and his own top White House aides.

Trump was also seemingly at odds with his own chief of staff, John Kelly, over the president's continued support for building a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border. Kelly told Fox News this week that Trump was "flexible" on the wall, to which Trump later tweeted: "The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it."

Trump further complicated budget negotiations on Thursday with a series of tweets that suggested he opposed the House stopgap bill. The White House put out a statement later that he did support it, and the president ultimately helped win over reluctant House conservatives to vote for the bill.

Most Americans would not feel the effects of a partial government shutdown. However, hundreds of thousands of federal workers would face furloughs.

"The military would still go to work, they will not get paid. The border will still be patrolled, they will not get paid," said Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget. "Folks will still be fighting the fires out West, they will not get paid. Parks will be open, people won't get paid."

All national security and military personnel deemed "essential" would continue to report to work, but they wouldn't get paid. That includes active-duty U.S. troops, unless Congress passes separate legislation to make sure their paychecks go out. Lawmakers, however, face no such threat. Members of Congress continue to get paid in a government shutdown.

It costs more to shut down the government than to keep it running. Standard & Poor's estimated that the 2013 government shutdown, lasting 16 days, cost the economy $24 billion and shaved 0.6 percent off the economic growth for the fourth quarter that year.

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