Senate in Disarray with Shutdown Hours Away
The chamber couldn't agree on scheduling a vote, let alone passing legislation to keep the government open
Here's how grim things looked in the Senate as the countdown continued toward a shutdown at midnight Friday: The chamber struggled to even schedule a vote to fund the government, let alone cobble together the votes to actually pass a bill.
After the GOP House passed a partisan monthlong spending bill Thursday, senators in both parties appeared increasingly dug in. A spat on the Senate floor between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer culminated in the chamber adjourning with no clear path to avoid a shutdown in barely 24 hours.
No vote is scheduled, and the two party leaders spent the night sniping over who's to blame for the impasse. Democrats are demanding protections for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants facing deportation, and Republicans are insisting that government funding not be tied to immigration.
Senate Democrats have lined up in opposition to the spending bill approved by the House, putting the government on course for a shutdown.
For a few minutes late Thursday, it looked like the chamber couldn’t even agree to adjourn for the night after Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) objected to going to bed. Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) ducked onto the Senate floor, checking on whether he would vote to have to adjourn the chamber — a rare procedural step invoked only at moments of the most severe gridlock.
Past 10 p.m., McConnell finally secured an agreement to send senators home for the night and regroup. The episode did not foreshadow positive momentum for a deal to break the impasse.
“You realize I’m not a fan of this place, right?” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) after the late night theatrics. Asked if the episode felt like a shutdown was looming, Johnson said: “It feels like a charade.”
“That was not the Senate’s finest hour, was it?” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.).
As dozens of their colleagues watched, Schumer and McConnell traded barbs and blamed each other for the stalemate. McConnell urged the Senate to support the monthlong spending bill, then Schumer proposed a much shorter one and accused McConnell of “kicking the can,” pantomiming a kick on the Senate floor.
McConnell rejected it out of hand.
“My good friend, the Democratic leader, is saying we have had too many continuing resolutions but suggests we pass yet another one,” McConnell said.
Schumer retorted: “This resolution kicks the can down the road and gives us no reason to believe that it’ll be any different than the first CR, the second CR, the third CR and the fourth CR.”
Senators were plainly dazed after the confrontation between the two party leaders. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) huddled with Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) after the chamber finally adjourned, trading predictions on whether the Senate could find a way to wriggle out of its straitjacket.
“I think cooler heads may, with a little luck, start to prevail,” insisted Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.).
But it isn’t clear who would blink first.
McConnell began heaping blame on Democrats pre-emptively. He singled out senators up for reelection this fall, such as Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, for potentially voting against the Children’s Health Insurance Program funding and government funding.
But Democrats seem unbowed.
“We should just do like a five-day [continuing resolution] … and let the negotiators get a final deal. We’re so close,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), whose state would be hurt disproportionately by a government shutdown. Virginians, Kaine said, “hate CRs.” He said he will vote against the House bill.
Indeed, despite the floor theatrics and partisan sniping, other senior senators stressed that behind the scenes, the two sides were making progress toward some sort of a bipartisan deal on immigration that could sidestep a shutdown.
The quartet of deputy House and Senate leaders met privately again Thursday afternoon with top White House and administration officials as they tried to hammer out the contours of an agreement for Dreamers.
“For the first time, we finally started talking about real issues: the Dream Act, citizenship and border security in more specific terms,” Durbin said late Thursday night. “So far, we’ve been talking about generalities. But today, we got more specific. So I hope it’s a promising beginning.”
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) left the meeting saying he was “somewhat encouraged” yet stressed that there would be no deal until the four leaders and the White House agreed on everything in an immigration accord.
Privately, Democrats are concerned that Republicans are pushing their demands beyond the parameters of border security, the diversity visa lottery, and family-based immigration laws. In meetings this week, the administration has been referring to a four-page document of “must haves” for an immigration deal, which includes provisions that Democrats consider out of bounds.
For example, in the realm of border security, the administration is seeking reforms to laws governing unaccompanied migrant children who show up at the border, overhauling asylum policy and funding 10,000 immigration enforcement officers, according to the document obtained by Politico. A DHS official declined to comment.
“That’s a big problem, because it’s Phase 2,” Durbin said. “Give the president border security, which he wants, but let’s not take on every single immigration issue. It’s not fair to them. We don’t have the time to do it right.”