House Republicans voted Thursday night to keep the government open — and now the real drama will begin in the Senate.
After weeks of internal squabbling, Republicans secured votes for a spending plan to keep the government open for another four weeks. The vote was 230-197, with 11 Republicans in opposition and six Democrats crossing the aisle to back it.
But the plan’s prospects in the Senate look dicey at best. Some GOP lawmakers said they intend to vote against it, arguing that repeated short-term funding measures harm the military. And a sizable bloc of Democrats have also come out in opposition because it does not address the fate of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants at threat of being deported.
Federal funding runs out at midnight Friday. If there is no spending plan in place by then, the federal government will begin to shut down non-essential operations — a crisis that both parties and the White House say the desperately want to avoid.
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called on Senate Democrats to drop their opposition to the funding proposal, which would keep federal agencies open through Feb. 16. House Republicans also added tens of billions of dollars of funding for a popular children’s health program in a bid to win more support.
“Sen. Schumer, do not shut down the federal government,” Ryan told reporters after the House vote. “It is risky, it is reckless and it is wrong.”
Ryan added: “The only people standing in the way of keeping the government open are Senate Democrats. Whether there is a government shutdown or not is entirely up to them.”
In order to win Thursday’s vote, Ryan struck a deal with Freedom Caucus conservatives shortly before a scheduled floor vote on a spending provision. The agreement, which promised the group a separate vote on military funding, is expected to yield enough votes to secure passage of the spending bill in the House.
The deal came together after Freedom Caucus members circumvented leadership and took their demands to President Donald Trump. A lingering disagreement between Ryan and conservatives had threatened to blow up the spending deal in the lower chamber — and undercut the GOP strategy of blaming Democrats for any shutdown.
Numerous Democratic senators emerged from a lively party lunch Thursday in opposition to the GOP plan.
“I am convinced that between Republicans who publicly said they’re [voting] no and Democrats who said they’re a ‘no,’ there are not enough votes in this chamber” to pass the House plan, said a Democratic Senator, who requested anonymity to discuss the matter freely.
The sentiment was confirmed by a Democratic aide and another senator.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told his members in an email obtained by POLITICO that he intends to keep the chamber in session through the weekend if a shutdown occurs. Republican senators also discussed the possibility of a much shorter spending bill at a Wednesday lunch, hoping to keep the pressure on Congress to hammer out a large agreement rather than punt on contentious spending and immigration issues.
Democrats and some Republicans appear willing to back only a spending bill lasting several days, hoping the small window would kickstart negotiations on a plan to protect hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from being deported.
“That would allow us to get a compromise, get a deal done. If we wait a month there’s little likelihood we’re in a better position than we are now,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas.), who made the case to his colleagues that funding bills for as short as one or two days are preferable to allowing the government to close.
But Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) dismissed the idea of a spending plan that only lasts days. “No, we’re not going to do that,” he said.
Should Ryan prevail in the House, the drama in the Senate is likely to take place just hours before a shutdown deadline. McConnell tentatively plans to bring up a procedural vote on Thursday evening after House passage, a vote that requires a mere majority.
The next vote, to close debate, could occur either late Thursday or Friday and will require 60 votes — an impossibility if Democrats stick to their current position.
“A couple things could then happen. [Either it] does trigger a negotiation and you actually get somewhere on [immigration]. Or [the government] shuts down and people point fingers and see who blinks first,” said one Republican senator familiar with party strategy.
Senate Democrats — furious with Trump for his reversal last week on a bipartisan Senate plan to protect 700,000 young immigrants from deportation — have signaled a new willingness to take a harder line. A handful who previously supported short-term funding measures have declared they will not this time around, including Tom Udall and Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.
“This CR can’t get the job done… We’re going to have to go in a different direction,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor. Schumer didn’t declare that Democrats would vote against the bill, but he noted that momentum was clearly heading in that direction.
Schumer mocked President Donald Trump and McConnell for an “unending flow of chaos from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue,” including the prolonged fight over the Dreamers, which has dragged on for months now.
“The president is like Abbott, the majority leader is like Costello,” Schumer said, referring to the famous comedy duo.
Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Senate Democrats are “very unified” in opposition to the House bill. Still he could not say for sure the bill would fail in the Senate. “It’s very close at this point,” Durbin said.
As McConnell and Schumer traded barbs on the Senate floor, Democrats who voted for the previous CR in December, including Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, remain undecided. And Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), a centrist Democrat that Republicans thought they could win over, has signaled he is opposed as well.
“It’s another patch,” Tester told reporters. “I think it’s a bad proposal. I’ll just tell you that. And it has nothing to do with DACA.”
McConnell tried to stop the bleeding in a Thursday email to his conference by warning other Senate Republicans against siding with Democrats: “This is an irresponsible position… I hope not a single Republican is inclined to join them.”
Meanwhile, House GOP spent Thursday morning doing damage control after Trump tweeted criticism of their spending bill — all while trying to whip the GOP votes needed to pass the text through their own chamber.
In a Twitter broadside that rattled Republican nerves, Trump blasted the GOP congressional leadership’s decision to attach tens of billions of dollars in funding for a popular children’s health program to the spending bill. That money is a key part of the GOP’s effort to pick up Democratic votes.
“CHIP should be part of a long term solution, not a 30 Day, or short term, extension!,” Trump said, referring to the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Speaker Paul Ryan and other House GOP leaders had attached the funding to the spending package in a — so far failed — effort to win Democratic support.
Ryan spoke with Trump about the matter afterward. And by lunchtime, the White House issued a statement clarifying that the president supports passage of the stop-gap measure.
House GOP leaders also spent much of Thursday afternoon haggling with the Freedom Caucus. In addition to the separate vote on military spending, the group also received a commitment from leadership to try to whip support for a conservative immigration proposal to address Dreamers.
House Democrats appeared unified against the short-term plan, despite the inclusion of money for children’s health. Ryan used a press conference Thursday to blame Democrats for the situation on Capitol Hill.
“They continue to hold military funding hostage over unrelated issues and deadlines that don’t exist,” he said, blasting Democrats for refusing to back a long-term spending deal until DACA is fixed. “Now they’re threatening to shut down the government altogether because of these unrelated issues. It is unconscionable.”
With only a 51-49 majority in the Senate — and Sen. John McCain absent due to cancer treatment — McConnell has a small margin for error and has already lost two Senate Republicans.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) have come out against the stopgap plan because they — like many defense hawks — say it cripples the military. And GOP Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Mike Lee (Utah) also may oppose the package, meaning McConnell would have to get at least 13 Senate Democrats to vote for it to avoid a shutdown.