shutdown watch

Senate Pushes Shutdown Fight to Final Day

It’s pretty ugly. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Shortly after House Republicans passed a stopgap funding bill designed to shift blame for a likely shutdown to Democrats, the drama continued on the Senate floor. Around 9:30 p.m. on Thursday night, both parties voted to open debate on the House bill. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned until Friday without holding the deciding vote, as it appeared he did not have the 60 votes needed for passage.

House Republicans tacked funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program onto the four-week spending bill in an effort to paint Democrats as obstructionists playing games with the health insurance of low-income children (though the CHIP funding crisis was engineered by Republicans). In a speech on the Senate floor following the vote, McConnell claimed the Democrats’ refusal to pass any spending bill that does not address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program is just grandstanding, since Dreamers have about six weeks before they lose their protection from deportation.

“So what our friends on the other side are saying here is they’re prepared to shut down the government over the issue of illegal immigration. Now on that issue, there is a bipartisan interest in solving the DACA problem, but the president has given us until March. Last time I looked this was January,” McConnell said.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pressed McConnell to hold a vote on the House bill on Thursday night, so the Senate could devote Friday to finding a solution that might actually pass. Schumer also made a counteroffer: pass a four- or five-day continuing resolution to give negotiators a bit more time to reach a deal on spending and immigration. A Democratic aide summed up their strategy as, “we want Republicans to need to negotiate.”

Instead, with senators already cleared to leave for the night, McConnell motioned to adjourn. In an unusual move, Senator Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, objected to McConnell’s attempt to set the next day’s schedule.

So now the game of chicken between Democrats and Republicans will continue into Friday. McConnell may be hoping that more Senate Democrats facing reelection in states that voted for Trump will break with their party, giving him the 60 votes he needs to pass the four-week continuing resolution. (West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin suggested that he’s a yes on the four-week spending bill.)

However, that seems unlikely, particularly because McConnell doesn’t even have the support of all 50 Republicans (John McCain is still recuperating in Arizona following cancer treatments). Two Republicans — Mike Lee and Rand Paul — voted no on even opening debate on the House bill. Lindsey Graham said he was a no on Thursday afternoon, and following the procedural vote, Jeff Flake said he’ll join him.

Flake said he would be willing to vote for Schumer’s proposal to push the shutdown deadline off for a few days, and some other Republicans seemed open to the idea. Earlier in the day, Senator Jerry Moran made the case to his GOP colleagues for a days-long stopgap measure.

“That would allow us to get a compromise, get a deal done. If we wait a month there’s little likelihood we’re in a better position than we are now,” Moran said.

At the time, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn shot down the idea, saying, “No, we’re not going to do that.”

If that’s still the position of the GOP leadership, a shutdown on Friday night looks quite likely.

Senate Pushes Shutdown Fight to Final Day