Republicans and Democrats spent the first day of the government shutdown Saturday trading partisan shots and making little headway on a compromise to quickly break the impasse.
Returning to the Capitol for a rare Saturday session, Republicans accused Democrats of prioritizing “illegal immigrants” over American citizens by insisting that protections for young immigrants facing deportation be included in any spending deal. Legislation that the House passed but that the Senate blocked early Saturday included six years of funding for health care for poor children.
Democrats countered that the situation is a product of President Donald Trump’s constantly shifting positions and embrace of the most hard-line stance on immigration. They took aim as much at Trump as their GOP congressional counterparts, betting that the public would be inclined to believe that the president’s chaotic leadership style caused the shutdown.
“Negotiating with President Trump is like negotiating with Jell-O,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) quipped on the Senate floor Saturday, the one-year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration.
Both sides dug in on Saturday, signaling they were prepared for a longer impasse. Both sides tried to hammer each other on their political messaging. And it was clear that the respective party leaders believed the other had badly misjudged the mood of the country.
Republican leaders are now contemplating a stopgap funding measure that runs through Feb. 8, which top Democrats still oppose without a commitment to ensure an immigration deal can get through both the House and the Senate. Democrats objected to the GOP’s request to hold the vote on Saturday, prompting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to threaten to foist another late-night vote on the weary chamber.
“I assure you, we will have a cloture vote at 1 a.m. on Monday unless there is a desire to have it sooner,” McConnell warned on the floor early Saturday evening.
Schumer and Trump, who had met for an Oval Office lunch just one day prior to try and broker a deal, did not communicate all day Saturday. And further complicating a potential breakthrough: Republicans say they won’t negotiate on immigration while the government is shut down.
“I think it’s more difficult to get any agreement on DACA in a shutdown,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy heading into a meeting with GOP leaders Saturday. He was referring to the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, shielding hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children from deportation, known as Dreamers.
White House Legislative Director Marc Short, who attended a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, echoed that stance.
“I think the administration’s position is that as soon as they reopen the government, we’ll resume negotiations on DACA,” Short told reporters. “It’s hard to negotiate on that when they’re keeping our border agents unpaid, our troops unpaid, not paying for American services.”
Trump, who canceled a weekend trip to Florida to celebrate his first anniversary in office, spoke with Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Saturday morning, aides said.
House Republicans scoffed at a tentative framework to reopen the government being discussed by a bipartisan group of senators.
Under the proposal — conceived by GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake — Senate Democrats would agree to re-open the government and fund agencies until Feb. 8. In exchange, they would secure a vote on a bipartisan Dreamers bill. While McConnell signaled that he might go along, Senate Democrats also wanted a commitment from Ryan to include the bill in must-pass legislation in the House.
But McConnell would not agree to that demand, senators said, because he cannot bind the House to a Senate deal. Graham and Flake have started meeting quietly with well over a dozen fellow senators, both Democrats and Republicans, to hammer out a compromise.
“My hope is that this bipartisan group will go back to the leaders of both parties and try to find a way to move forward,” Graham said as he left Saturday’s meeting, held in the office of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).
But all along, Ryan has insisted the Senate needs to approve the House bill to fund the government until Feb. 16 as a starting point for any broader agreement.
“We were not party to any negotiations, and our only message to the Senate all day yesterday was pass our bill to keep the government open,” AshLee Strong, Ryan’s spokeswoman, said in a statement. “The government shut down because Senate Democrats decided to hold the entire federal government and children’s health insurance hostage. It’s pretty straight forward.”
During a House GOP conference Saturday morning, Ryan told Republicans that they were doing the right thing in refusing to negotiate beyond accepting a three-week stopgap spending plan. He noted that headlines in national publications said Democrats — not Republicans — had shut down the government.
Ryan also predicted that Democrats would soon recognize that they’d overplayed their hand and were already looking for a way out. House members applauded his stand. Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-Ga.) at one point stood up to say that Schumer was acting to help “illegal immigrants” at the detriment of his daughter, who serves in the military. Defense hawks argue that shutdowns cripple the nation’s readiness and the troops.
While Trump and Republicans blamed Senate Democrats for the shutdown, Democrats claimed it was Ryan’s unwillingness to let the House vote on any Dreamers’ package that led to the first government closure since 2013.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who attended a meeting of House Democrats on Saturday, told them it was Ryan’s resistance to a DACA fix that caused Democrats to block a bill that would have kept the government open until Feb. 16, triggering the shutdown. Republican aides refuted Durbin’s account.
“We have received mixed signals from Speaker Ryan,” Durbin said. “We just want the assurance that if we do reach a bipartisan compromise on the floor of the Senate, that it won’t have the fate of the comprehensive immigration bill [in 2013] which was never even considered by the House.”
Democrats also slammed Trump for failing to force Ryan and McConnell to make a deal.
“Durbin says [Schumer] and [McConnell] negotiated off floor last night. Mitch stepped out to take a call from Paul Ryan. Came back and said, ‘Bet’s off,'” one House Democrat told POLITICO.
“The main takeaway: There are lots of paths in the House and Senate that the Republican [House] leadership is thwarting. They don’t want a deal,” added Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). “The Trump White House is missing in action.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the dispute was over much more than just Dreamers. Fairness in spending allocations between defense and non-defense programs is also at stake, she said.
“I have said, and I will say it again, that we are willing to go to a short-term [continuing resolution] if in fact we have come to a conclusion and agreement on [spending] parity, which is important to us,” Pelosi said at a news conference. Such a deal could include more money for defense and border security, she added.
In the Senate, leaders remained stalled Saturday on the issue of when a DACA vote would take place, and it appeared later Saturday that a vote was not likely to occur. Schumer continues to oppose a plan to fund the government through early February unless there is a commitment to an immigration vote in both chambers, several sources in both parties say.
Trump took to Twitter on Saturday to blast Democrats for the shutdown.
“Democrats are holding our military hostage over their desire to have unchecked illegal immigration,” Trump tweeted Saturday morning. “Can’t let that happen!”
He added: “#AMERICA FIRST!”
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