The Senate blocked two proposals on Thursday to reopen the government, but amid the ongoing stalemate, there’s some hope that Washington might be inching closer toward ending a shutdown now on its 34th day.
In a 52-44 vote, the Senate rejected House-backed legislation that would fund the government through February 8. The Senate, in a 50-47 vote, blocked legislation endorsed by President Donald Trump that provided $5.7 billion for his border wall and granted temporary protection for some undocumented immigrants.
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The bills were expected to fail.
Six Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Mitt Romney of Utah and Johnny Isakson of Georgia joined Democrats to vote in favor of the continuing resolution.
“I’ve said all along we should fund border security, keep the government open,” Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said prior to the vote. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time.” He added that Coloradans “don’t understand why Congress can’t get its job done.”
When asked about the Republican defections on the continuing resolution bill, Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said that members are “frustrated and want to do everything they can do move the process forward.”
The dueling votes marked the first time the Senate has formally moved on government funding since the shutdown began. And senators this week signaled a note of optimism, saying that even though Thursday’s bills were going to fail, they at least represented movement and possibly the start of negotiations to end the shutdown.
“I think it certainly puts everybody on record, and if nothing else I would hope at least that this would get the conversation going again,” Thune said.
After the Senate votes, party leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer met for about 30 minutes. Schumer emerged from the meeting smiling, saying “we’re talking.”
The president told reporters later on Thursday that he’d support a “reasonable agreement” between McConnell and Schumer. Trump also raised the idea of a “pro-rated down payment on the wall” in exchange for reopening the government, though Speaker Nancy Pelosi shot the idea down.
“The president has just said if they come to a reasonable agreement he will support it,” she said leaving the House floor late Thursday afternoon. Demanding wall funding “is a not a reasonable agreement between the senators.”
About 20 dozen House Democrats marched over to the Senate during the vote in an unsuccessful effort to pressure Republicans to back the clean spending bill.
House Democrats are also preparing a counteroffer of sorts to Trump that reportedly would provide at least $5 billion in border security, but no new funding for the wall. Democrats on Thursday, however, were tightlipped leaving a planning meeting in Pelosi’s office and refused to detail what level of border funding will be in the proposal or how far-reaching it is.
The proposal, set to be made public Friday, suggests pressure is mounting to find a solution to the impasse. Earlier this week, a group of centrist House Democrats drafted a letter to Pelosi asking that she give Trump a vote on his border wall or a border security package in exchange for re-opening the government. The Democrat-controlled House has also repeatedly passed legislation to re-open the government — most recently a spending bill Thursday to re-open the Department of Homeland Security.
Some House Democrats have privately dismissed the DHS proposal as a messaging document meant to ease their rank-and-file’s frustrations with the prolonged stalemate. But House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Thursday he’s confident the Democratic counteroffer will be a starting point for serious talks with the president once the government is reopened.
“I maintain hope that people will come to their senses real soon. And I’m very confident that the proposals we’re putting forward will gain traction and will become a significant part of whatever the negotiations are going forward,” Clyburn said. “We won’t get 100 percent of what we want and we want the president to understand he won’t get 100 percent of what he wants.”
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said Thursday that part of the reason is Democrats haven’t decided how to present the offer – whether just to roll out a DHS bill or send Trump an accompanying letter outlining what exactly they will support on the border.
“The letter is still a work in progress. As to what format it will be, we’re not sure. It could be that or it could be another format,” Thompson told reporters.
Another issue up for debate: Whether to include any money for new fencing in some spots along the border.
“The question is still being debated as to whether any new fencing would be included,” Thompson said, although another Democratic source with knowledge of the bill disputed that.
Still, both parties remain publicly dug-in. Democrats have been adamant that Trump must re-open the government before they negotiate on a border security deal, while Trump says he will not re-open the government without funding for his border wall.
“They know full well that we’re here,” Pelosi told reporters on Thursday. “It’s the president of the United States. We’d meet with him anytime he wants to meet.”
Even before Thursday votes, the shutdown appeared to be taking a toll, with Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) yelling at Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) over the shutdown.
“These crocodile tears that the senator from Texas is crying for first responders are too hard for me to take,” Bennet said. “How ludicrous it is that this government is shut down over a promise the president of the United States couldn’t keep. And that America isn’t interested in having him keep.”
Cruz responded that he never “bellowed or yelled” at one of his colleagues on the Senate floor.
The Senate’s vote against stop-gap legislation to fund the government temporarily comes more than one month after it voted by voice vote for similar legislation to keep the government open through Feb. 8.
Thursday’s funding bill had some differences from the legislation passed in December, however. The House-passed bill included funding for disaster relief, some limits on physical barrier construction and changes to Medicaid.
On Wednesday, Pelosi and Trump sparred over whether the president would deliver his State of the Union address from the House of Representatives before the government was re-opened. Trump responded initially that he would find an alternative venue, but then said he would wait until the shutdown ended to deliver the speech. Clyburn said he was a “bit more hopeful” about ending the shutdown after Trump conceded to Pelosi on the speech.
Meanwhile, even as he demands Congress give him money for his border wall, Trump has also declined to rule out declaring a national emergency to build his border wall — an explosive and legally dubious move but one that could offer an alternative route to ending the shutdown.
Burgess Everett, James Arkin and Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.