Moderates move to break shutdown logjam
Moderate senators left a bipartisan meeting Sunday optimistic they’re making headway on a compromise to reopen the government after a two-day standoff.
Senators agreed to take their proposal to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) after the 90-minute meeting, acknowledging that any plan has to receive both leaders’ sign-off.
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“The leaders have to meet with each other,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), one of roughly 20 senators who attended the meeting. “Mitch knows my thinking.”
The group hopes to persuade McConnell and Schumer to support a plan to reopen the government through Feb. 8 and commit on the Senate floor to holding an immigration vote before that date. Centrists want the leaders’ assurance on the immigration bill to mean that the Senate would advance to a bill in early February and stay on it until something passes, the senators said.
Senators from both sides left the meeting stressing the next several hours are critical, predicting if a deal isn’t reached today, both parties could remain entrenched — and the government shuttered — for days to come.
The centrists are eager to end the brinkmanship that has erupted at the one-year mark of Donald Trump’s presidency. Democrats insist that any funding legislation extend Obama-era protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, while Republicans say they won’t negotiate around immigration until the government reopens.
The moderate group does not want the Senate to vote on any particular immigration proposal but instead on “whatever can get 60” votes. McConnell and Schumer have not dismissed the idea out of hand, one senator involved in talks said.
Senate Republican leaders plan to wait to weigh in until the moderates formally propose something. But reaching an agreement hinges on Schumer and McConnell’s relationship, which has been rocky. The two leaders chatted on the Senate floor Sunday afternoon, their first time speaking since Friday.
McConnell and Schumer are expected to meet privately after speaking with their members, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) said after huddling with Schumer and other moderate Democrats. He could not say whether Schumer would accept the deal.
“The leaders have to be agreeable,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said in an interview. “It’s truly astonishing how it got to this.”
The group of roughly 20 moderates includes Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
But it’s not clear whether liberals would accept what their moderate Democratic colleagues are discussing. They fear Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) could repeat the exercise of 2013, when the Senate passed an immigration bill and the House didn’t take it up. That’s why, without an ironclad commitment from Ryan, they are skeptical.
“It depends on whether it’s part of a must-pass bill. That is my strong preference. The goal is to have the DREAMer Act passed,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in an interview. “I have no confidence, zero, in Paul Ryan bringing that bill to the floor.”
Republican leaders are also skeptical. They believe commiting to an immigration vote would just throw Democrats a lifeline and prefer to negotiate on DACA only after the government reopens.
“Does that mean if we have an agreement by [Feb.] 15 that that’s not good enough?” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said of the plan to hold an immigration vote by Feb. 8. “I just think people are nervous because they shut down the government and are looking for face-saving.”
Still, McConnell listened to the presentation by a group of GOP senators to allow such a vote by Feb. 8.
So far, House Republican leaders have rejected the idea of committing to holding an immigration vote on the House floor and are so far refusing to negotiate on anything beyond a three-week continuing resolution. Ryan said Sunday the House will accept a short-term bill through Feb. 8 but will commit only to an immigration bill “that the president supports to fix this problem.”
“We’re basically waiting to see whether the Senate will vote for this or not,” Ryan said of a three-week funding bill on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Without a bipartisan agreement otherwise, the Senate is scheduled to vote at 1 a.m. Monday on a bill to reopen the government through Feb. 8. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), one of five red-state Democrats to support a funding bill on Friday, warned that forcing a vote Sunday night on a three-week version — without any further breakthroughs on immigration — would make a deal even harder to reach.