A day that began with angry, finger-pointing exchanges between Senate Republicans and Democrats, veered off into the unexpected with a one-on-one meeting between the president and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, and then drifted into rumors and desultory efforts at a deal, ended with the government officially shut down.
Around 10:00 p.m. on Friday, the Senate picked up where it left off a day earlier, holding a vote to cut off debate on the House-passed, one-month stopgap spending bill with no immigration provisions. Needing 60 votes to invoke cloture, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell only got 51. Five Democrats (Joe Donnelly, Heidi Heitkamp, Doug Jones, Joe Manchin, and Claire McCaskill), all from states carried by Donald Trump in 2016, voted with the Republicans to keep the government open on the GOP’s terms. Four Republicans (Jeff Flake, Lindsay Graham, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul) voted against the continuing resolution for varying reasons, and John McCain was absent.
In the end, it was the refusal of Republicans to provide assurances of an imminent immigration deal that thwarted negotiations. The president’s brief but startling sitdown with Schumer (Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan were pointedly not invited) seems to have been aimed (beyond making Trump himself look like a peacemaker) at testing Democratic resolve over relief for Dreamers. Schumer didn’t flinch, and efforts later in the day to get Democrats to bend on that point in exchange for other concessions did not go anywhere.
Just as the vote lurched toward a negative conclusion, fresh rumors began that Schumer and McConnell were on the verge of cutting a new deal, perhaps for a shorter stopgap spending measure than the one the House passed, but more than Schumer’s proposed three-to-five-day hiatus. But after Congress officially crossed the deadline at midnight, both men took to the Senate floor to cast blame on the other party and to offer conflicting shutdown branding ideas (“Schumer Shutdown” versus “Trump Shutdown”). The atmosphere was not improved by a nasty White House statement that met the midnight hour:
Senate Democrats own the Schumer Shutdown. Tonight, they put politics above our national security, military families, vulnerable children, and our country’s ability to serve all Americans. We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands. This is the behavior of obstructionist losers, not legislators. When Democrats start paying our armed forces and first responders we will reopen negotiations on immigration reform. During this politically manufactured Schumer Shutdown, the President and his Administration will fight for and protect the American people.
Before adjourning the Senate for the night, McConnell cleared away some procedural hurdles to a Saturday afternoon vote on an amendment that would shorten the House spending bill to a three-week rather than a four-week measure (which Lindsey Graham had been lobbying in favor of for much of the day). Schumer had vetoed that idea earlier, suggesting Democrats might accept a ten-day spending extension, until just before the State of the Union address. It’s possible senators could coalesce around some intermediate date that would at least temporarily stop the shutdown and provide more time for negotiations on immigration and other contentious issues. But the House would have to concur as well, which might take some time, or fail.
So, for now, we’re headed into the one-year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration with the federal government shut down indefinitely, no immigration agreement in sight, and the White House acting as though it relishes more partisan infighting. The president and Senator Schumer reportedly talked over cheeseburgers yesterday afternoon. They might need food tasters next time they meet.