Senators Begin New Talks to End Government Shutdown
New negotiations between the Senate’s top Republican and Democrat and the White House signaled the potential for a deal to end the partial government shutdown even as President Donald Trump continued to insist on money for a border wall that Democrats reject.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who until now has publicly sat on the sidelines during the 35-day government shutdown, opened negotiations with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Thursday after the chamber blocked two rival spending bills to reopen the government.
“We’re talking, we’re talking,” said Schumer of New York after emerging from McConnell’s office.
Still, there’s no clear path to end the shutdown as the White House and Democrats remain at odds over Trump’s demands to fund a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump has threatened to veto legislation that doesn’t include wall funding.
A bipartisan group of senators proposed a three-week spending plan designed to buy time for congressional negotiations over border security spending. But White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday it would have to include a “large down payment on the wall.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly rejected that proposal, telling reporters it’s “not a reasonable agreement.”
And a Schumer spokesman, Justin Goodman, said Thursday night that the minority leader “and Senate Democrats have made clear to Leader McConnell and Republicans that they will not support funding for the wall, prorated or otherwise.”
‘Wouldn’t Be Happy’
GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said he hoped a deal could be reached after he spoke with the president. He said a temporary measure would have to contain additional provisions to satisfy both sides: funding for a “wall/barrier” to please Trump and disaster aid to please Democrats.
Trump told reporters at the White House that if a stopgap spending bill passed without wall money, “I wouldn’t be happy.” He added: “I have other alternatives if I have to, and I’ll use other alternatives if I have to.” Trump didn’t elaborate, but he may have been referring to declaring an emergency that would attempt to circumvent Congress by tapping unspent appropriations to pay for the wall.
House Democrats postponed plans to unveil a proposal on Friday for securing the border without erecting new barriers. Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi said he expects it to call for more than US$5.7 billion in spending on technology, personnel and other aspects of security.
The talks were triggered after the Senate rejected two proposals -- one by Trump and one by Democrats -- intended to reopen the government. They were the first votes the Senate has taken on funding the government since the Dec. 22 start of the shutdown, now the longest in modern U.S. history.
Trump managed to get only one Democrat, West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, to support his proposal. Six Republicans voted for the Democratic attempt to reopen the government for two weeks: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah.
After the votes, a bipartisan group of 16 senators -- eight from each party -- took to the chamber’s floor to say they want to reopen the government for three weeks to allow time for work on a bipartisan border security deal.
“I think we can do this together,” said Murkowski, a leader of the effort. “But we can’t do it with the government shut down.”
The Democratic proposal attracted two more votes than the Trump-backed Republican plan, but both fell well short of the 60 needed to advance. The Democratic measure would have reopened agencies until Feb. 8 to allow talks on a border security plan but wouldn’t have funded a wall. Trump’s proposal would have spent US$5.7 billion on a border wall.
Just last month, the Republican-controlled Senate had backed the Democratic measure by voice vote before Trump suddenly opposed it, triggering the shutdown.
State of Union
The president late Wednesday acquiesced to Pelosi’s cancellation of his planned Jan. 29 State of the Union address in her chamber until the government reopens. The Treasury Department, Department of Homeland Security and Environmental Protection Agency are closed as Trump fights for his 2016 campaign promise to build a wall at the border.
Before the votes, McConnell called Trump’s plan a “pragmatic compromise that could end this impasse right away” by getting the president’s signature.
Schumer said the pain inflicted by the shutdown is “getting deeper and deeper every day,” with 800,000 federal employees set to miss another paycheck on Friday.
Trump’s proposal faced strong objections from Democrats who oppose the wall and the plan’s changes in immigration law including new limits on asylum claims by Central American minors. It would have temporarily protected some young undocumented immigrants from deportation.
The White House had said Trump would veto the Democratic measure, which was previously passed by the House. Overcoming a veto would require two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate, and votes so far have shown support well below that amount.