Mitch McConnell is making contingency plans for the growing possibility of a government shutdown.
The Senate majority leader intends to keep the chamber in session through the weekend and stage a series of votes designed to put Democrats from conservative states on defense, according to two Republican sources familiar with his plans and an email sent by McConnell on Thursday and obtained by POLITICO.
The goal would be to place the blame for a shutdown squarely on 10 Democratic senators up for reelection this fall in states won by Donald Trump in 2016, and make them the face of a government closure.
The strategy is risky for Republicans, considering that they control the White House and Congress. Should funding lapse at midnight Friday, McConnell would keep the Senate in session and try to force Democrats to repeatedly vote against funding for children’s health care money and government spending.
On Thursday morning, McConnell sent his GOP members an email imploring them to stick together and assign blame to Democrats. Several Republicans, including Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Mike Rounds of South Dakota have said they will oppose a House spending bill that could be voted on Thursday night.
“We should all plan to stay through this weekend if Senate Democrats follow through and are willing to shut down the government and the Children’s Health Insurance Program because they have yet to conclude a deal on DACA. This is an irresponsible position to take as everything from pay for our military to processing social security checks will be affected. I hope not a single Republican is inclined to join them,” McConnell said in the email.
Liberal Democrats scoffed at the Republican strategy to blame their more moderate colleagues.
“Only In Washington when the Republicans control the House of Representatives, the United States Senate and the White House would they seek to blame Democrats,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). “You should be concerned less about the politics and more about getting the job done.”
Only West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin has said he will support the House’s short-term funding bill. The other Trump-state Democrats are not saying how they would vote. They’re under pressure from liberal activists demanding that they vote against any bill that does not include protections for hundreds of thousands of young immigrants facing potential deportation.
Republicans have 51 votes in the Senate and are hoping to expand their majority this fall, when a host of moderate Democrats are up for reelection.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) signaled on Tuesday that he could vote no, blasting the House’s short-term bill as “a bad proposal,” while Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) also indicated she is undecided. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said he would not draw a “line in the sand” on funding.
“They will own this shutdown and we will take these votes over and over so they are on record. General polls [about] how [Republicans] suck do not matter. We are looking at the Trump states where we need pick up seats. And we will go after them aggressively,” said a senior Republican aide working on party strategy.
McConnell is likely to repeatedly call up the funding bill and make Democrats vote it down, provided the House passes its bill on Thursday. A spokeswoman for McConnell confirmed the Senate will stay in session in the event of the shutdown.
“If the Democrats choose to shut down the government, if that hypothetical situation happens, then yes of course the Senate will remain in session,” said Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for McConnell.
A national Republican strategist said the GOP’s campaign arm is likely to use Democrats’ words opposing the 2013 shutdown against them. The aim will be to damage incumbent Democrats caught between voters in conservative states and liberal activists pushing those senators to block the funding bill. Campaign officials are planning to hammer Democrats for voting against a bill with funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
“You will also see something similar to the messaging [Democrats] used in 2013 on funding for troops, seniors and again children,” the strategist said.
Senate Democrats are laying their own plans to blame Trump and GOP leaders for a potential impasse, including an aggressive media campaign slamming Republicans.
“Senate Republicans have a herculean task ahead of them to blame anyone but the president for this shutdown,” said Matt House, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “The American people will know exactly where to place the blame for the first-ever shutdown under total Republican control in Washington.”