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Congress Hurtles Toward Shutdown


Congress is careening toward the first shutdown in more than four years, with Republicans and Democrats at a seemingly intractable impasse over government funding and the fates of young immigrants facing deportation.

Though House Republicans voted Thursday night to keep the government open, the real drama is in the closely divided Senate, where it’s unclear what, if anything, can clear the chamber’s supermajority threshold. The Senate couldn’t even agree on holding a vote on Thursday night, adjourning after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spurned Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s request to hold a vote and, assuming it failed, restart bipartisan negotiations on immigration and government spending levels.

“These are hard issues, there’s a lot of disagreement. Not just on substance but how to proceed to it. And everybody’s trying to gain leverage,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)., the No. 3 GOP leader.

The uncertainty came just hours after House Republicans put weeks of internal squabbling behind them and secured votes for a spending plan to keep the government open for another four weeks. The vote was 230-197, with 11 Republicans in opposition and six Democrats crossing the aisle to back it.

The Senate voted to open debate on the bill late Thursday, but the plan’s prospects in the Senate are dicey at best, with no apparent hope of winning the required 60 votes to break a filibuster. Some GOP lawmakers said they intend to vote against it, arguing that repeated short-term funding measures harm the military. And a sizable bloc of Democrats have also come out in opposition because it does not address the fate of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants at threat of being deported.

The end game appears to be either a much shorter extension of government funding and rapid negotiations — or a shutdown and finger-pointing.

McConnell lit into Democrats on Thursday evening for taking a hard line on linking the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to the government funding fight. He said the House’s bill reauthorizing a children’s health insurance program and keeping the government’s lights on should be an “easy yes vote for any senator.”

“My Democratic colleagues’ demand on illegal immigration at the behest of their far-left base have crowded out all other important business,” McConnell said. “I think the American people clearly would not expect us to act this way.”

Schumer shot back: “The leader is looking to deflect blame. But it just won’t work. We all know what the problem is. It’s complete disarray on the Republican side.”

The two party leaders spent much of Thursday evening bickering on the Senate floor.

Federal funding runs out at midnight Friday. If there is no spending plan in place by then, the federal government will begin to shut down non-essential operations — a crisis that both parties and the White House say the desperately want to avoid.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called on Senate Democrats to drop their opposition to the funding proposal, which would keep federal agencies open through Feb. 16. House Republicans also added tens of billions of dollars of funding for a popular children’s health program in a bid to win more support.

“Sen. Schumer, do not shut down the federal government,” Ryan told reporters after the House vote. “It is risky, it is reckless and it is wrong.”

Ryan added: “The only people standing in the way of keeping the government open are Senate Democrats. Whether there is a government shutdown or not is entirely up to them.”

In order to win Thursday’s vote, Ryan struck a deal with Freedom Caucus conservatives shortly before a scheduled floor vote on a spending provision. The agreement, which promised the group a separate vote on military funding, is expected to yield enough votes to secure passage of the spending bill in the House.

The deal came together after Freedom Caucus members circumvented leadership and took their demands to President Donald Trump. A lingering disagreement between Ryan and conservatives had threatened to blow up the spending deal in the lower chamber — and undercut the GOP strategy of blaming Democrats for any shutdown.

Numerous Democratic senators emerged from a lively party lunch Thursday in opposition to the GOP plan.

“I am convinced that between Republicans who publicly said they’re [voting] no and Democrats who said they’re a ‘no,’ there are not enough votes in this chamber” to pass the House plan, said a Democratic Senator, who requested anonymity to discuss the matter freely.

The sentiment was confirmed by a Democratic aide and another senator.

McConnell told his members in an email obtained by POLITICO that he intends to keep the chamber in session through the weekend if a shutdown occurs. Republican senators also discussed the possibility of a much shorter spending bill at a Wednesday lunch, hoping to keep the pressure on Congress to hammer out a large agreement rather than punt on contentious spending and immigration issues.

Democrats and some Republicans appear willing to back only a spending bill lasting several days, hoping the small window would kickstart negotiations on a plan to protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from being deported.

But Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) dismissed the idea of a spending plan that only lasts days. “No, we’re not going to do that,” he said.

Senate Democrats — furious with Trump for his reversal last week on a bipartisan Senate plan to protect 700,000 young immigrants from deportation — have signaled a new willingness to take a harder line. A handful who previously supported short-term funding measures have declared they will not this time around, including Tom Udall and Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.

Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Senate Democrats are “very unified” in opposition to the House bill. Still he could not say for sure the bill would fail in the Senate. “It’s very close at this point,” Durbin said.

Several Republicans, like Graham and Rand Paul of Kentucky, indicated they can’t support the House either, imperiling the GOP’s unity in the Senate. McConnell tried to stop the bleeding in a Thursday email to his conference by warning other Senate Republicans against siding with Democrats: “This is an irresponsible position… I hope not a single Republican is inclined to join them.”

McConnell prevailed on Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). who had said he opposed the House bill but reversed course, saying he’d made a deal with the House for more defense funding.

The House GOP spent Thursday morning doing damage control after Trump tweeted criticism of their spending bill — all while trying to whip the GOP votes needed to pass the text through their own chamber.

In a Twitter broadside that rattled Republican nerves, Trump blasted the GOP congressional leadership’s decision to attach tens of billions of dollars in funding for a popular children’s health program to the spending bill. That money is a key part of the GOP’s effort to pick up Democratic votes.

“CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!,” Trump said, referring to the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Speaker Paul Ryan and other House GOP leaders had attached the funding to the spending package in a — so far failed — effort to win Democratic support.

Ryan spoke with Trump about the matter afterward. And by lunchtime, the White House issued a statement clarifying that the president supports passage of the stop-gap measure.

Source: Politico

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