The federal shutdown dragged into the workweek Monday as a group of senators from both parties scrambled to broker a deal that would allow them to reopen the government in exchange for ironclad assurances of a vote on immigration policy in the coming weeks.
Ahead of a scheduled noon vote that could pave the way to ending the shutdown, the bipartisan group met to discuss Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) comment Sunday that he intends to open a debate on immigration if Democrats help Republicans pass a measure to reopen the government through Feb. 8.
Leaving the meeting, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said they want a firmer, more detailed commitment.
“It would be helpful if the language were a little bit stronger because the level of tension is so high,” Collins told reporters outside her office. She said McConnell deserves credit for his offer.
Graham and Flake plan to vote for the Feb. 8 spending bill, Graham said, adding that McConnell’s language “can be firmer — will be.”
Other members of the group expressed hope that momentum for a deal was building. Some called for the noon vote to be delayed to allow time for further negotiations.
“I think a lot is going to happen in the next two hours — a lot of changes,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.).
Still, as of mid-morning, the bill did not appear to have the 60 votes needed to advance, according to White House legislative affairs director Marc Short and several senators.
“I think right now we’re still a few votes short,” Short said in an interview with the Fox Business Network. “I’m not quite sure we’ll get to 60.”
But some eyed a possible breakthrough. A Republican aide involved in the talks said that McConnell and his team were considering putting their plan in document form with more detail as a way of convincing some Democrats to support the short-term bill.
Democrats said they were open to considering a written pledge but said the specifics would matter. “Trust but verify,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
The impasse continued as it was unclear whether the public would blame the Republicans, who control the White House and Congress, or Democrats, who are seeking protection for young undocumented immigrants as government agencies remain shuttered.
With the negotiations focused on the Senate, President Trump used Twitter to interject his opinion. Democrats are acting at the behest of their “far left base” in advocating for “dreamers,” he argued.
“The Democrats are turning down services and security for citizens in favor of services and security for non-citizens. Not good!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The effects of the shutdown over the weekend were relatively limited: halting trash pickup on National Park Service property, canceling military reservists’ drill plans, switching off some government employees’ cellphones.
But the shutdown’s continuing into Monday means that hundreds of thousands of workers stayed home and key federal agencies were affected. Federal contractors will see payments delayed, and the Internal Revenue Service will slow its preparations for the coming tax season.
In a television interview, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) called Democrats’ position “bizarre” and “just ridiculous.”
“We were in bipartisan, earnest, good-faith DACA negotiations before the shutdown,” Ryan said on “Fox & Friends,” referring to talks over how to resolve the status of immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.
Sunday began with more of the partisan posturing that marked much of the previous week, delivered on the morning news programs, on the House and Senate floors, and in a presidential tweet.
Trump wrote that if the “stalemate continues,” then Republicans should use the “Nuclear Option” to rewrite Senate rules and try to pass a long-term spending bill with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes needed to pass most legislation — a notion Trump has previously floated to McConnell’s repeated dismissal.
The president otherwise remained uncharacteristically quiet, heeding the advice of senior advisers who argued that he has the upper hand over Schumer and the Democrats and that they would soon be forced to capitulate.
On the Senate floor, Schumer showed no signs of caving and kept pressure on Republicans.
“Not only do they not consult us, but they can’t even get on the same page with their own president,” he said.
As the clock ticked toward a scheduled 1 a.m. Monday vote — set by McConnell in part because of arcane Senate rules but later postponed — the moderates made the most visible progress toward a deal. Among the participants in the Collins meeting were a number of Democrats who are seeking reelection in states Trump won in 2016 — five of whom voted Friday against sparking the shutdown in the first place.
No firm proposal emerged from the meeting, but senators discussed a broad outline that could unlock a deal: modify the temporary spending bill now under consideration in the Senate to expire on Feb. 8, and then find some way to guarantee that immigration legislation moves forward in the interim.
The White House has said it supports the plan for funding through Feb. 8 but has been wary of making concessions on immigration. While legislation protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients could probably move through the Senate with Democrats and a handful of Republicans supporting it, Trump has rejected proposals along those lines, and House GOP leaders are under fierce pressure not to bring up any bill that a majority of Republicans would reject.
Other Republicans also saw little advantage in making any concessions to advance legislation that would provide protections for “dreamers” — 690,000 of whom face potential deportation after Trump canceled the DACA program.
Democrats said they made a significant concession over the weekend, agreeing to put major funding behind Trump’s promised border wall, something that has been anathema to liberals since the 2016 presidential election.
But the concession was rejected on two fronts. Doubts remained that the Democratic rank and file would agree to wall funding and Republicans questioned Schumer’s claim that he offered Trump precisely what he wanted.