Senate Advances Measure To End 3 Day Government Shutdown


Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) arrives at the Capitol at the start of the third day of the government shutdown on Monday.
J. Scott Applewhite, AP

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) arrives at the Capitol at the start of the third day of the government shutdown on Monday.

Updated at 1 p.m. ET.

The Senate has advanced a stopgap spending bill that is the first step in ending the partial shutdown of the federal government, now in its third day.

Shortly before the Monday procedural vote was set to begin, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced that he would vote to reopen the government along with enough Democrats to assure it reaches the 60 votes needed to advance. The Senate voted 81-18 to move forward with the continuing resolution, which would fund the government through Feb. 8.

In exchange for his support, Schumer said, he's received assurances from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that if an agreement isn't reached by then, the GOP leader will bring a vote to the floor on legislation to grant legal status to those protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), roughly 700,000 immigrants who are in the country illegally after being brought here as children.

Once the Senate bill passes, the House must pass the same measure in order to reopen the government. The bill would also extend the expired Children's Health Insurance Program for six years.

Schumer argued that blame for the weekend-long stalemated laid at the president's feet.

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"The reason the Republican majority had such difficulty finding consensus is they could never get a firm grip on what the president of their party wanted to do. These days, you never know who to deal with when it comes to the Republicans," Schumer said. "The Republican leaders told me to work out a deal with the White House. The White House said, work it out with Republican leaders on the Hill. Separately, President Trump turned away from not one, but two bipartisan compromises. Each would have avoided this shutdown."

McConnell, however, claimed Democrats had caved because they realized holding out for a DACA deal tied to the funding deal was not wise politically.

"I think if we've learned anything during this process it's that a strategy to shut down the government over the issue of illegal immigration is something that the American people didn't understand," McConnell said.

With the measure apparently moving forward, it will now be hard for Democrats to argue they extracted many concessions from GOP leaders. McConnell's promise is just that — a promise. "Some of us struggle to trust him," Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told NPR's Morning Edition, "because of the famously vulgar way that President Trump sort of blew up the last time that Sens. [Lindsey] Graham and [Dick] Durbin offered him a bipartisan deal [on immigration]."

Democrats were trying to frame the deal as a temporary victory, though, with Senate Minority Whip Durbin, taking the floor to call the DACA issue the "civil rights issue of our time" and underscoring the importance of passing an immigration bill by the new deadline, which he said McConnell had assured them would be on a level playing field.

While many Senate Democrats had remained entrenched in their opposition to any funding deal that doesn't include a DACA fix, a growing number of moderate lawmakers were wary of an extended shutdown fight.

Many Democrats worried the Republican talking point that Democrats were siding with "illegal immigrants" over the military and government would resonate with voters as the stalemate extended into the workweek.

President Trump tweeted that argument on Monday morning.

Trump has generally kept a low profile during the shutdown. He canceled a planned trip to Florida where he hoped to celebrate his first anniversary in office with a high-dollar fundraising party.

Aides say the president spent the weekend telephoning lawmakers and working with staff to minimize fallout from shuttered government operations.

"He is focused on managing the shutdown," said press secretary Sarah Sanders. "That's the biggest part of the process that he plays at this point. One is encouraging members to do the right thing and reopen our government. The other part is to manage the pieces. That's his job as president of the United States."

A group of about 20 senators met for several hours on Saturday and again on Sunday afternoon to hash out the plan that ultimately allowed both sides to back down from their increasingly entrenched positions, and vote to reopen the government.

Representatives from those talks briefed leaders in the afternoon, but the suspense dragged out for nearly six hours before McConnell made his announcement.

Several of the senators in the bipartisan group said they worried a prolonged shutdown could become harder to fix and cause greater damage to the country.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., joined the talks, and is one of several Democrats up for re-election in states where Trump won in 2016.

"One of the things we learned from the last shutdown was that, as time goes on, positions harden," Heitkamp said. "Resolution gets more difficult the longer we wait."

McConnell's promise to address DACA in February might not be much, but it may be just enough to win the Democratic support needed to end the shutdown.

"The progress, although it may seem small to you, the progress that happened last night was for leader McConnell to stop saying that dealing with DACA and border security is a side issue," said Coons. "So at least saying we will proceed to it by Feb. 8 if we haven't resolved it by then."

House still has to vote on the new legislation. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation that he would support a spending bill like the one being discussed in the Senate.

"[McConnell] is going to bring up a bill keeping things funded to Feb. 8," Ryan said. "We have agreed that we would accept that in the House."

Republicans said late Sunday that they were more confident about prospects for ending the shutdown than they were earlier in the day. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters that he believed Schumer wanted to give his fellow Democrats time to understand what the new agreement entails.

"The minority wants to just give everyone a chance to chew on it and sort of understand it, and that's why he didn't want to have the vote tonight," Cornyn said on Sunday. "On balance, it's better to have a successful vote tomorrow at noon than it is to have a failed vote tonight."

One potential issue is that the deal to vote on immigration proposals applies only to the Senate. The House could choose to ignore whatever the Senate takes up.

NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley contributed to this report.

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