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Blame game ramps up as shutdown nears

Despite the time crunch, Republicans and Democrats angrily blamed each other Thursday night for the looming shutdown.

Lawmakers drifted closer to a shutdown of the federal government late Thursday after the House approved a funding bill on a largely party-line vote, with Democrats in the Senate vowing to defeat the measure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) adjourned the Senate until 11 a.m. Friday without scheduling a vote on the House measure, giving lawmakers just 13 hours to reach a deal to avert a shutdown, which would begin Friday night at midnight.

A Senate vote to advance the House funding bill is expected to fail, with Democrats and some Republicans lining up against the measure. McConnell needs 60 votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster and pass a bill.

Despite the time crunch, Republicans and Democrats angrily blamed each other Thursday night for the looming shutdown.

McConnell accused Democrats of holding hostage various federal priorities, including a six-year extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), in order to gain leverage over what he called a “non-imminent problem" of immigration.

“They’re prepared to shut down the government over the issue of illegal immigration,” he said.

McConnell argued that Congress has until March 5 to replace the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which President Trump announced in September that he would rescind.

Trump’s executive decision threatens nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children.

“Where is the urgency here?” McConnell asked.

That statement angered Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), who argued that the plight of so-called Dreamers, immigrants who often have lived in the United States since childhood, cannot be ignored any longer.

“If you want to know the urgency, look into the gallery behind me,” he said, referring to young Hispanic immigrants who crowded into the chamber for the late-night debate. “Look at the people who have gathered here late this night who are following every word that we are debating.”

McConnell countered that Republicans also want to help Dreamers but argued the issue is too complicated to tack onto an appropriations bill.

A group of negotiators made up Durbin, Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) are in the midst of negotiating a compromise.

McConnell accused Democrats of dragging out spending talks in order to gain leverage on immigration.

“The reason these talks have gone on so long is because they’ve [insisted] on throwing the illegal immigration issue into the pool of these other issues and now are saying … we’re going to shut the government down if we can’t have our way on this issue,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) pushed back, arguing Democrats had no choice but to defeat the House measure.

He accused GOP leaders of shutting Democrats out of negotiations and ignoring their major priorities.

“A continuing resolution constructed by the Republican Speaker and passed without the consultation of the House Democrats or Senate Democrats whatsoever. The Republican leader is now saying to us take it or leave it,” Schumer said.

McConnell and Schumer are both betting that the other will back down first.

Schumer called on his colleagues to hold a decisive vote on the four-week House-passed spending measure on Thursday evening in the hopes that it would be quickly defeated and force Republicans to the negotiating table.

“We all know that it will be defeated,” he said, and urged his colleagues to “start serious negotiations” on Friday morning.

But McConnell objected, instead pushing to vote on the House bill Friday shortly before government funding expires in an effort to put pressure on vulnerable Democrats up for reelection this year.

Democrats predict the GOP will get most of the blame for a possible shutdown given their control of Congress and the White House, as well as Trump's bellicose statements about immigration in the last week.

Republicans, meanwhile, believe they have the upper hand. They think voters will be angry with Democrats for blocking a crucial funding bill over immigration — which they say should be handled separately.

Earlier on Thursday, several Republicans including Sens. Jerry Moran(Kan.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) proposed short, multiday spending resolutions to give negotiators a little more time to work on alternative legislation.

McConnell shot down those proposals at a Senate Republican lunch.

Josh Holmes, a GOP strategist and McConnell’s former chief of staff, said Democrats running in Republican-leaning states would suffer a political backlash for voting against the funding bill.

“Look at this objectively: Democrats are proposing to shut down essential services for Americans to provide citizenship for those who are not. How do you think that will be received in MT, MO, IN, WV, OH, WI, ND, etc?” he tweeted, referring to Senate battlegrounds in Montana, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Ohio, Wisconsin and North Dakota.

Not all Republicans are convinced, though.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said Republicans usually get the blame during shutdowns.

“We always do, even though it’s their fault,” he said.

Democrats say Republicans would suffer more blowback because they control both chambers of Congress.

A senior Democratic aide noted that several Republicans, including Graham and Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), are expected to vote with Democrats against the bill.

“This won’t fail because of one party,” the source said.

Democratic aides also point to a poll released Tuesday by Hart Research Associates, a Democratic survey firm, showing that a plurality of voters in 12 Senate battleground states would blame Republicans more than Democrats for a shutdown.

GOP leaders won a small victory Thursday by convincing Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), who had pledged to vote no, to change his mind.

Rounds said he made a deal with leaders to move to a defense appropriations bill through regular order in the next few weeks. He has repeatedly stated his objections to funding the government with a succession of temporary measures.

But GOP leaders could lose the support of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who said leadership promised him an immigration bill would come to the floor this month in exchange for his support of last year’s tax bill.

"I had a commitment to have a DACA vote on the floor — the bipartisan DACA vote on the floor — by the end of January and then all of the sudden the condition was put on 'if the president supports it,’” he said, referring to McConnell’s statement to reporters earlier this week that he would not bring an immigration bill to the floor unless he knows Trump supports it.

"I'm not inclined to vote for the [continuing resolution],” he warned.

Flake, who is retiring after this Congress, said extending government funding for another month would leave lawmakers in the same place without much progress.

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