Shutdown looms as Republicans struggle for votes
The possibility of a government shutdown grew dramatically Thursday as House and Senate GOP leaders struggled to round up the votes to keep the government open past midnight Friday.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) predicted that the House would pass a short-term funding measure on Thursday night. GOP leaders are gambling that rank-and-file Republicans won’t want to risk being blamed for a shutdown and will end up supporting the short-term spending bill, which would keep the government open until Feb. 16.
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But on the other side of the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appears to have a serious problem.
Senate Democrats said they’re confident they have the votes to block the stop-gap spending bill that the House is taking up, according to two Democratic senators and a senior party aide. And top Senate Republicans are openly worried about the situation as they struggle to keep their own members in the fold.
“I’m concerned that we, yeah, we may not have 60 votes in the Senate,” South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the third-ranking Senate Republican, said Thursday morning. “And I think that’s obviously problematic.”
After a lively party lunch on Thursday, the vast majority of the Senate Democratic caucus emerged in opposition to the GOP proposal.
“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.
“That would allow us to get a compromise, get a deal done. If we wait a month there’s little likelihood we’re in a better position than we are now,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas.), who made the case to his colleagues that funding bills for as short as one or two days are preferable to allowing the government to close.
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney acknowledged the possibility of a “Plan B” in case the CR fails to pass. Mulvaney, a former House member, told reporters in the Capitol that the administration is considering a shorter-term spending bill if needed.
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.
Yet 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.
“This CR can’t get the job done… We’re going to have to go in a different direction,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor. Schumer didn’t declare that Democrats would vote against the bill, but he noted that momentum was clearly heading in that direction.
Schumer mocked President Donald Trump and McConnell for an “unending flow of chaos from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue,” including the prolonged fight over the Dreamers, which has dragged on for months now.
“The president is like Abbott, the majority leader is like Costello,” Schumer said, referring to the famous comedy duo.
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.
As McConnell and Schumer traded barbs on the Senate floor, Democrats who voted for the previous CR in December, including Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, remain undecided. And Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), a centrist Democrat that Republicans thought they could win over, has signaled he is opposed as well.