WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump pressured Congress on Sunday to end a government shutdown that reached its second day amid deep uncertainty over whether Democrats and Republicans could soon break an impasse to restore federal funding.
“If stalemate continues,” he wrote on Twitter, Republicans should use the “Nuclear Option” to change the rules of the Senate and try to pass a long-term spending bill with a simple majority.
The president’s statement came amid deep uncertainty over whether Democrats and Republicans could soon break an impasse to restore federal funding. Lawmakers were set for another tense day, with the start of the workweek for many federal employees less than 24 hours away.
Trump praised Republicans for “fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border,” while he said Democrats “just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked.”
Trump has previously advocated changing a long-standing Senate rule requiring 60 votes to pass most legislation. On Sunday, it was again met by opposition from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
“The Senate Republican Conference opposes changing the threshold for cloture votes on legislation,” said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart.
The Senate will gavel into session at 1 p.m. McConnell has vowed to take up a new spending plan by Monday morning, or sooner, that would keep government open through Feb. 8.
But the proposal does not contain a solution for “dreamers,” undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States as children, raising doubts about whether the plan will win enough support to pass.
On Sunday morning news shows, Democrats and Republicans pointed fingers at each other for the shutdown and batted away charges of hypocrisy in light of past comments about shutting down the government.
Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat, said Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Trump had appeared to be closing in on a broad deal Friday that would also address immigration. He blamed the White House for backing away from a plan he said included a generous concession from Democrats on Trump’s border wall.
“I can’t answer that question directly,” Durbin said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” when asked whether the government would re-open Monday.
White House legislative affairs director Marc Short on the same program declined to provide assurances that the president would guarantee a vote on an immigration bill Democrats are seeking in exchange for supporting a short-term spending deal. Some lawmakers see this as a potential way to end the deadlock.
“We want to have the right resolution,” Short said, noting that bipartisan Senate negotiators have not yet released their complete immigration plan.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney defended Trump’s “nuclear option” tweet, arguing that if “ordinary rules prevailed,” the government would be open.
In recent years, Democratic and Republican Senate leaders have changed rules protecting the minority party. In 2013, then-Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, D-Nev., did away with the 60-vote threshold for most executive branch nominees and judicial picks. This year, McConnell ended it for Supreme Court nominees, clearing the way for Neil M. Gorsuch to win confirmation.
Lifting that requirement on most legislation, however, would be a step too far, many senators believe. “That would the end of the Senate as it was originally devised,” Durbin said on ABC.
Congressional leaders in both parties refused to budge publicly from their political corners Saturday on the first day of the shutdown, avoiding direct negotiations and bitterly blaming each other in speeches. Trump joined the fray with a series of charged tweets.
But glimmers of a breakthrough were evident by late in the day, as moderate Democrats and Republicans began to rally behind a new short-term funding proposal to reopen the government through early February.
That plan could include funding for storm-ravaged states, reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program – and an implicit agreement to hold votes at some point in the coming weeks on a bipartisan immigration deal, according to senators involved in the discussions.
The moderate senators are trying to reach a deal on immigration in hopes that, should a three-week spending accord be approved, McConnell would allow it to come up for a vote alongside a longer-term spending plan.
Democrats, however, remained intensely opposed to McConnell’s approach, unsure he would agree and frustrated by Republicans’ refusal to meet their demands on immigration while the government is closed. At issue for Democrats is the fate of thousands of young immigrants eligible for protection from deportation under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Trump canceled the program in September, and it is set to expire in March. Lawmakers are scrambling to enact a legislative solution.
Democrats also questioned the ability of the negotiating group to reach an agreement that can pass the Senate and House and also earn Trump’s approval.
McConnell and Schumer did little in public Saturday besides trade insults in brief speeches on the Senate floor or on television. There were no substantive talks between the two leaders.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., are leading the moderate group, with Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., both of whom have worked closely with Schumer on immigration issues in the past, serving as go-betweens for the two parties. The duo shuttled back and forth between Schumer’s and McConnell’s offices on the second floor of the Capitol trying to forge a political peace, but they left for dinner shortly after 6 p.m. with no solid agreement with either leader.
It is unclear whether there is enough bipartisan support for the immigration proposal being floated by the moderates – or for one that Senate conservatives are also drafting. And the possibility of no resolution to the immigration standoff before the DACA deadline remained. So far, Trump, McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have refused to consider Democrats’ demands until there is a bipartisan agreement to reopen the federal government.
At the White House Saturday, a phone line for comments directed callers to voice mail with a message slamming Democrats. “Unfortunately, we cannot answer your call today because congressional Democrats are holding government funding, including funding for our troops and other national security priorities, hostage to an unrelated immigration debate. Due to this obstruction, the government is shut down,” a woman’s voice said on the message.
The White House said it supports the plan for funding through Feb. 8, eliminating a potentially significant hurdle to its enactment. Yet the simmering tensions between the Trump administration and Schumer, who said Saturday that negotiating with the president was like negotiating with “Jell-O,” underscored the delicacy of the moment.
There was scattered and acrimonious activity on the House and Senate floors on Saturday.
McConnell sought to bring up the four-week spending bill that failed Friday night; Democrats blocked the attempt. Democrats asked to vote on a bill guaranteeing federal workers their back pay for the period of the shutdown; McConnell objected, saying they deserve a full funding bill.
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee who objected to McConnell’s attempt to revive the short-term bill, questioned McConnell’s embrace of the GOP proposal to extend funding of the Children’s Health Insurance Program – and highlighted the discord that defined the day.
“He sounded like Marian Wright Edelman last night, the founder of the Children’s’ Defense Fund, with his newfound interest in the children’s health plan,” Wyden said in an interview. “It sounds like I’m listening to Ted Kennedy talk about health … I’ve never heard of this being a priority (for Republicans).”
In the House, lawmakers prepared for a possible deal by debating a special rule allowing them to consider any bill that passes the Senate on the same day. The debate devolved into a shouting match over displaying disparaging photos of other members – such as Schumer – on the floor.