Funding for the federal government lapsed Saturday as the Senate tried fruitlessly to negotiate a deal to keep the government open, prompting a shutdown on the first anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
On a 50-49 vote that closed shortly after midnight, the Senate rejected a patchwork funding measure that would stave off a shutdown for four more weeks. Most Senate Democrats and a small handful of Republicans voted to filibuster the House-passed bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he will offer a new stopgap measure that would fund the government for just three more weeks, until Feb. 8. The vote will not occur immediately early Saturday morning, McConnell said.
“What we have just witnessed on the floor was a cynical decision by Senate Democrats to shove aside millions of Americans for the sake of irresponsible political games,” McConnell said. “The government shutdown was 100 percent avoidable, completely avoidable.”
In a statement issued shortly before midnight, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “Senate Democrats own the Schumer shutdown.”
“Tonight, they put politics above our national security, military families, vulnerable children, and our country’s ability to serve all Americans,” she said. “We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands. This is the behavior of obstructionist losers, not legislators.”
During the two hours that the vote stayed open, a flurry of senators rushed around on the floor, engaged in negotiations. Later, multiple senators said they had locked down a commitment from McConnell to hold a vote on an immigration deal, though Democrats couldn’t get McConnell to agree on tying the plan to a must-pass spending meausre.
“The Democrats who care about [the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program] are afraid the House won’t pass the bill,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is close to both Senate leaders. “And what Sen. McConnell was saying is, ‘Look, I can move the [funding deadline] date up, and I can put immigration on the floor and let the Senate work its will. But I am not the speaker of the House, I cannot control what the House does.’”
Nonetheless, the failed vote led to the first official shutdown since October 2013. It came after Trump summoned Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to the White House earlier Friday in hopes of an agreement.
But the New York Democrat returned without one, saying he and Trump discussed “all the areas” on which the two sides disagree. On the floor, Schumer spoke of that lunch, telling the chamber that “in my heart,” he thought he had brokered a tentative agreement.
“That was how far we had come. That’s how positive our discussion felt,” Schumer said. But “even though President Trump seemed to like an outline of the deal in the room, he did not press his party in Congress to accept it.”
Schumer pointed the finger squarely at the White House: “There is no one … who deserves the blame for the position we find ourselves in more than President Trump.”
The House will now be in session on Saturday, with Democrats scheduled to hold a caucus meeting to strategize at 10 a.m.
“If there’s any good news, it’s a weekend,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters after a House Democratic leadership meeting Friday night. “If we act tomorrow as I think we could, and I think we should, and reach compromises, then we could pass something before the weekend ends and the impact would be minimal.”
On Friday night, Senate Democrats emerged from a 90-minute caucus meeting that previewed Schumer’s floor remarks that Trump had walked away from a deal with the minority leader. The party’s resolve to block a spending bill approved by the House Thursday only hardened as the shutdown deadline drew near.
“Sen. Schumer tried very hard to reach a responsible compromise on a wide range of topics,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).
All day Friday, Republicans were intent on making sure Democrats bear full blame if the government did end up shutting down. Senate Republicans emerged from a party lunch — in which senators chomped on barbecue from Rocklands, a local chain — waiting to see whether the Schumer-Trump meeting would bear fruit.
It didn’t. Schumer returned to the Capitol, telling reporters that the two had a “long and detailed meeting” but that the sides “still have a good number of disagreements.”
House Republicans, satisfied they’ve done their job after passing a four-week spending extension Thursday night, had been preparing to leave town for the weekend, although lawmakers were later told to keep their Friday schedules flexible and stick around for potential late-night votes. Ultimately, neither side was willing to cave and agree to something they’ve vowed not to.
“I think we let it soak in a little bit so that the Democrats are the ones that are shutting down the government and what their priorities are,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Friday. Those priorities, Cornyn said, are “clearly not the children’s health insurance program, clearly not the military. It’s … to get another short-term [continuing resolution], which hurts the military, and it’s all designed to build leverage for immigration.”
Still, Democrats are confident that voters will hold Republicans responsible since they control the White House and Congress. Republicans, backed by Trump’s bully pulpit, are accusing Democrats of siding with “illegal immigrants” over poor kids, since the stop-gap spending bill would extend a popular children’s health program for another six years.
For much of Friday, McConnell and Schumer had not engaged in remotely substantive negotiations over how to keep federal operations running after midnight on Friday. And as Schumer was meeting with Trump, the White House quickly moved to assure congressional Republicans that the president merely wants to hear the New York Democrat out — not cut a deal, one person familiar with the discussions said.
“I wish for all of our sakes that the Democratic leader would figure out what he actually wants. I feel bad for his own members,” McConnell said Friday as the Senate came into session. “He’s painted them into a corner.”
Democrats were unmoved. House Democrats held a private caucus meeting Friday afternoon that sounded like a pep rally to reporters outside. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) urged the group to remain unified as Congress edged closer to a shutdown.
“Unity is the strongest weapon we have,” Durbin told the group, according to two sources in the room.
Durbin and the other three deputy leaders — Cornyn, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Hoyer — had been scheduled to resume their immigration negotiations Friday after Schumer returns from the White House, although that was put on hold indefinitely, aides said. Some of the members and staff met Friday morning, though Republicans involved say the negotiators are still far from an immigration deal.
Schumer, taking a suggestion from Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), wanted McConnell to take up a funding measure that lasts mere days, to inject urgency into negotiations on a deal to address 700,000 young immigrants facing potential deportation, and other matters that Democrats say are pressing.
But McConnell had no intention to do so. That’s despite the Republican leader’s antipathy for shutdown politics — he has flatly declared in the past there would not be one — particularly in a year when his Senate majority could be on the line. He never planned to take up any other bill than the House legislation on Friday, and may vote on it repeatedly in an attempt to inflict political pain on vulnerable Democrats, according to senators and aides.
Republicans had believed the Democrats’ demands for an even shorter stopgap measure made no sense, and insisted that the minority party needs to tell the GOP what exactly they want in order to keep the government open. Democrats had responded that Republicans wouldn’t reach out to them about a deal.
“The only path to keeping the government open is the bill in front of us,” said a senior GOP aide.
House leaders did not support a “very short-term” stopgap measure either, which would buy Congress a few more days to reach a deal, McCarthy said.
“We’ve passed our CR,” McCarthy said, referring to a continuing resolution, in an interview following an hour-long House GOP leadership meeting on Friday morning. “Sen. Schumer needs to decide if he wants a shutdown.”
Acknowledging the urgency of the impending shutdown, Trump’s weekend jaunt to Mar-a-Lago has been canceled, the White House said Friday afternoon.
Earlier Friday, Senate Democrats circulated a counter-proposal that would fund the government through Feb. 16, pass the DREAM Act, extend the expired Children’s Health Insurance Program, deliver $90 billion of disaster aid and increase defense and non-defense spending by more than $50 billion apiece, according to sources in both parties. Republicans scoffed at the proposal and do not view it seriously.