By Robert Costa, Erica Werner, Ed O’Keefe and Elise Viebeck,
The federal shutdown headed into the workweek Monday as senators from both parties scrambled to broker a deal that would allow them to reopen the government in exchange for ironclad assurances of a vote on immigration policy in the coming weeks.
Ahead of a noon vote that could pave the way to ending the shutdown, senators emerged from a meeting led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) with the hope that momentum for a deal is building. Some proposed delaying the noon vote to give the negotiations more time.
“I think a lot is going to happen in the next two hours — a lot of changes,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) around 9:15 a.m.
“We’re close and I’m hopeful we can get this done in very short order,” said Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.). “We shall see.”
Talks centered on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) offer to consider allowing a floor debate on immigration next month if leaders do not strike an agreement before then.
“This immigration debate will have a level playing field at the outset and an amendment process that’s fair to all sides,” McConnell said Monday on the Senate floor.
But many Democrats doubted the Senate Republican leader would follow through.
McConnell’s pledge is “clearly inadequate, an empty promise, a transparent ploy without any commitment to making dreamers legislation part of a must-pass bill,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said Monday in an interview with CNN.
Blumenthal said that in order to win enough Democratic support to reopen the government, McConnell should commit to including immigration legislation in the spending bill.
Meanwhile, President Trump went on Twitter to argue Democrats are acting at the behest of their “far left base” in demanding protections for young undocumented immigrants in negotiations to reopen the government.
“The Democrats are turning down services and security for citizens in favor of services and security for non-citizens. Not good!” he wrote.
In a television interview, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) called Democrats’ position “bizarre” and “just ridiculous.”
“We were in bipartisan, earnest, good-faith DACA negotiations before the shutdown,” Ryan said on “Fox & Friends,” referring to talks over how to resolve the status of immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday night that the two sides had “yet to reach an agreement on a path forward” after moderate senators spent the day trying to bridge the gap between the two sides.
Their proposal — to link a three-week extension of government funding to the consideration of an immigration bill in the Senate — prompted McConnell to announce that he would be willing to consider debating various immigration proposals on the floor in mid- to late February if an agreement on immigration was not reached before then by party leaders.
The effects of the shutdown over the weekend were relatively limited: halting trash pickup on National Park Service property, canceling military reservists’ drill plans, switching off some government employees’ cellphones.
But the shutdown’s continuing into Monday means that hundreds of thousands of workers will stay home and key federal agencies will be affected. Federal contractors will see payments delayed, and the Internal Revenue Service will slow its preparations for the coming tax season.
The impasse continues as it was unclear whether the public would blame the Republicans, who control the White House and Congress, or Democrats taking a stand on immigration while shuttering government agencies.
White House legislative affairs director Marc Short said progress was being made in the negotiations, despite the appearance of a logjam.
“I feel like there’s been significant progress,” Short said Monday in an interview with CNN, arguing he sees Democrats moving “toward our position.” “I think that honestly there’s a lot of progress here.”
But whether Republicans can find compromise on immigration remained as uncertain as ever, with no clear backing from House Republican leaders or Trump, who showed no sign of retreating from his hard line on immigration.
The bipartisan group scrambled for a compromise, but the decision ultimately belonged to McConnell and Schumer.
“We’re trying to be helpful in showing them that there is a path forward,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who hosted more than 20 fellow moderates in her office for an early afternoon meeting.
Sunday began with more of the partisan posturing that marked much of the previous week, delivered on the morning news programs, on the House and Senate floors, and in a presidential tweet.
Trump wrote that if the “stalemate continues,” then Republicans should use the “Nuclear Option” to rewrite Senate rules and try to pass a long-term spending bill with a simple majority rather than the 60 votes needed to pass most legislation — a notion Trump has previously floated to McConnell’s repeated dismissal.
The president otherwise remained uncharacteristically quiet, heeding the advice of senior advisers who argued that he has the upper hand over Schumer and the Democrats and that they would soon be forced to capitulate.
On the Senate floor, Schumer showed no signs of caving and kept pressure on Republicans.
“Not only do they not consult us, but they can’t even get on the same page with their own president,” he said.
As the clock ticked toward a scheduled 1 a.m. Monday vote — set by McConnell in part because of arcane Senate rules but later postponed — the moderates made the most visible progress toward a deal. Among the participants in the Collins meeting were a number of Democrats who are seeking reelection in states Trump won in 2016 — five of whom voted Friday against sparking the shutdown in the first place.
No firm proposal emerged from the meeting, but senators discussed a broad outline that could unlock a deal: modify the temporary spending bill now under consideration in the Senate to expire on Feb. 8, and then find some way to guarantee that immigration legislation moves forward in the interim.
The White House has said it supports the plan for funding through Feb. 8 but has been wary of making concessions on immigration. While legislation protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients could probably move through the Senate with Democrats and a handful of Republicans supporting it, Trump has rejected proposals along those lines, and House GOP leaders are under fierce pressure not to bring up any bill that a majority of Republicans would reject.
Other Republicans also saw little advantage in making any concessions to advance legislation that would provide protections for “dreamers” — 690,000 of whom face potential deportation after Trump canceled the DACA program.
Democrats said they made a significant concession over the weekend, agreeing to put major funding behind Trump’s promised border wall, something that has been anathema to liberals since the 2016 presidential election.
Schumer on Sunday said that in a Friday meeting, Trump “picked a number for the wall, and I accepted it.”
But the concession was rejected on two fronts. Doubts remained that the Democratic rank and file would agree to wall funding and Republicans questioned Schumer’s claim that he offered Trump precisely what he wanted.