WASHINGTON D.C. — Both sides are refusing to stand down ahead of a tentative Senate vote currently scheduled for the wee hours Monday morning on whether to end the government shutdown.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer each took to the chamber floor on Sunday to trade blame for the shutdown, both accusing the other side of taking hostages.
But in contrast to the sharp speeches from the respective party leaders, a few Republican senators sounded somewhat confident notes that they would receive enough support from Democrats to reopen the government on a short-term basis without a simultaneous deal on immigration.
South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, who voted against the short-term funding plan on Friday, and Texas Republican John Cornyn, the majority whip, both predicted they could get enough support from Democrats in the vote early Monday to pass a three week extension and keep the government open through February 8.
“I think there will be a breakthrough tonight,” Graham said. “If there’s going to be one, it’ll be tonight.”
At the same time, Graham said that the White House was not leading on the situation and that White House staffers were serving the President poorly.
“The Senate needs to lead ’cause no one else is,” Graham said, adding later, “The White House staff, I think, is making it very difficult.”
Cornyn spoke on the Senate floor, predicting a three-week continuing resolution would pass, and as he headed from the floor, rejected the Democratic demand that immigration legislation be attached to a must-pass bill.
One Republican source with direct knowledge of the matter told CNN McConnell has made clear there will be no commitment to Democrats that the House would take up whatever the Senate passes. The source also said McConnell has made clear the President must be involved in whatever happens on protections for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
A Democratic aide said those are both potentially serious roadblocks for Democrats, who do not trust the House would move on a DACA bill or that President Donald Trump will stick to a position and not undercut the process.
Two senators in a bipartisan group that met Sunday told CNN that members at the meeting have told their party leaders they could agree to a deal that includes a three-week government funding stopgap in addition to a commitment to get a DACA fix to Trump’s desk, among other outstanding issues like disaster relief and domestic spending.
It was unclear what that meant by “commitment,” however, and the two said those are issues McConnell and Schumer would have to hash out.
Later Sunday afternoon, Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois took to the Senate floor to call for a measure in the meantime to assure pay for military personnel and for military families to receive death benefits despite the shutdown.
“Let’s at least take the simple, commonsense step that we all agree on,” Duckworth said. “Let us remove any possibility military pay and even worse, military death benefits will be used and held hostage as political leverage.”
During his speech early Sunday afternoon, McConnell said Democratic demands on permanent protections for DACA recipients were not an emergency given that the program is not set to expire until March. He said the expired Children’s Health Insurance Program and other government programs were of more immediate concern.
“All of these other things are an emergency,” McConnell said. “The one non-emergency issue that our friends on the other side are trying to shoehorn into this discussion doesn’t reach that status of emergency until March.”
McConnell said he supported the right of the Democratic minority to filibuster “from an institutional point of view,” but maintained Schumer’s use of it was unproductive and that the Democrats should relent.
Schumer, meanwhile, pinned blame for the shutdown on Republicans in general and the President foremost.
“Congressional leaders tell me to negotiate with President Trump,” Schumer said. “President Trump tells me to figure it out with the congressional leaders.”
Schumer said he offered Trump a compromise on immigration that included funding his proposed border wall with Mexico, but that ultimately Trump and the Republicans had not moved on his proposal.
“Because the President campaigned on the wall, even though he said it would be paid by Mexico, and demands the wall, for the sake of compromise, for the sake of coming together, I offered it,” Schumer said. “Despite what some people are saying on TV — and mind you these are folks not in the room during discussion — that is exactly what happened. The President picked a number for a wall. I accepted it.”
The White House in turn denied Schumer’s claims about the Friday meeting he had with Trump.
“Sen. Schumer’s memory is hazy because his account of Friday’s meeting is false,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “And the President’s position is clear: We will not negotiate on the status of unlawful immigrants while Sen. Schumer and the Democrats hold the government for millions of Americans and our troops hostage.”
She also said Sunday afternoon that Trump had spoken with Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen about the impact of government shutdown, and that Trump and White House chief of staff had each spoken with members of Republican congressional leadership.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning that Schumer had not exactly offered the White House what they wanted on the wall, arguing Democrats had offered “to authorize” the wall, but not to appropriate funds for it.
Earlier Sunday, the White House called for Senate Republicans to change the chamber’s rules to resolve the funding impasse as the government shutdown continued into its second day.
Trump tweeted his call for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to invoke the so-called nuclear option and thereby remove leverage for Senate Democrats.
“Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border. The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked. If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51% (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long term budget, no C.R.’s!” Trump tweeted.
A spokesman for McConnell said in response to the tweet that the Senate Republican Conference does not support changing the 60-vote rule, a reiteration of Republican Senate leadership’s already-stated opposition to the move Trump has called for over the past year.
Senate rules impose a threshold of 60 votes to break a filibuster, and Senate Republicans currently hold a slim majority of 51 votes, meaning even if they can unite their members, they need nine more votes to end debate. The White House is calling for the Senate to change its rules and move the threshold to a simple majority of 51 votes.
Eliminating the 60-vote threshold to break a legislative filibuster would remove significant powers for the minority party in the Senate, and party leaders have been reluctant to do so in the past because of the consequences it would pose when their party returns to the minority.
During his CNN interview, Mulvaney said eliminating the filibuster would be one avenue they back to ending the shutdown.
“There’s a bunch of different ways to fix this,” Mulvaney said. “We just want it to get fixed.”
Mulvaney offered that another way to end the shutdown, from their point of view, would be for enough Democrats to cross the aisle and give the GOP the votes it needs to restore funding.
“Get some of those Democrats who say back home they want to work in a bipartisan fashion, they want to work with Republicans, but don’t,” Mulvaney said.