With a government shutdown in its second day Sunday, congressional leaders in both parties searched for an exit ramp as moderate Republicans and Democrats appeared to rally behind a short-term funding proposal and the White House signaled possible flexibility on “Dreamers.”
A rare weekend schedule continued on Capitol Hill, with voting possible. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who had not spoken for a day, huddled briefly on the Senate floor and arranged to meet later Sunday.
But deep uncertainty over whether the shutdown would extend into Monday and beyond created hardship for many of the 2.3 million federal employees who don’t yet know whether their offices will be shuttered and whether they will lose pay.
McConnell pushed a proposal to temporarily fund the government through Feb. 8. But without the consent of all senators, complicated Senate rules won’t allow a roll call until 1 a.m. Monday, adding to the sense of chaos and confusion.
“This shutdown is going to get a lot worse tomorrow,” McConnell warned. “A lot worse. Today would be a good day to end it.”
It was either the “Trump Shutdown” or the “Schumer Shutdown,” depending on whether the finger pointing came from Republicans backing the president or from Democrats standing with the New York minority leader.
Schumer blamed Republicans, who control the House, Senate and White House, especially after President Trump backed out of a possible agreement. “It all stems from the president, whose inability to clinch a deal has created the Trump Shutdown,” Schumer said.
Schumer said he even agreed to put Trump’s request for border wall funds — some $20 billion over several years, sources said — on the table for consideration, a major concession that alarmed other Democrats.
The White House disputed that account, and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Schumer’s recollection “hazy.”
“His account of Friday’s meeting is false,” Sanders said. “The president’s position is clear: We will not negotiate on the status of unlawful immigrants while Sen. Schumer and the Democrats hold the government for millions of Americans and our troops hostage.”
However long it lasts, Democrats said Trump’s inconstancy had hurt the chances of staving off the shutdown.
“How can you negotiate with the president under those circumstances where he agrees face-to-face to move forward with a certain path, and then within two hours calls back and pulls the plug?” asked Sen. Richard J. Durbin, (D-Ill.), appearing on ABC’s “This Week.”
Trump, forced to give up his planned weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, spoke to the heads of the departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs to gauge the impact of the shutdown, according to the White House.
He took to Twitter to blame Democrats for the impasse and to urge Senate Republicans to change the rules to allow a bill to pass with a simple majority, not the 60 votes now required.
“If stalemate continues,” Trump tweeted, Republicans should use the “Nuclear Option” to change Senate rules and try to pass a long-term spending bill with a simple majority. A spokesman for McConnell later said the nuclear option was not under consideration.
The government spending deadline was midnight Friday, and Democrats and Republicans are stalemated over several issues, but most split over the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Trump has promised to end by March 5. Known as DACA, it protects from deportation about 700,000 immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.
White House aides later signaled there might be some flexibility, although they did not provide details.
Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Trump is “absolutely interested and wants to get DACA fixed.”
The president’s legislative director, Marc Short, sent the same message in an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” painting DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, as contributing to the economy and society.
“These are people aged 16 to 36 with work permits, which means they do not have any criminal background,” Short said. “They’re here being productive to our country.”
In some cases, rank-and-file lawmakers began taking action on their own.
A bipartisan group of senators of met behind closed doors for a third consecutive day to try to hammer out a compromise.
Conferring for more than an hour in the office of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the 20 senators developed the contours of a path forward for resolving the budget, immigration and other issues.
By midafternoon, the group’s Democrats and Republicans, led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), separately presented the idea to their Senate leaders.
One aspect of any deal has been a guarantee from McConnell to consider immigration legislation in February before DACA expires.
But the GOP whip, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, after speaking with Trump, doubted any promises would be made on immigration. He also defended Trump’s hands-off approach of outsourcing the shutdown mess to Congress.
“It’s not his responsibility,” Cornyn said. “He doesn’t get to vote on a filibuster. Only the Senate does.”
The shutdown struck at 12:01 a.m. Saturday when Democrats in the Senate, joined by a handful of Republicans, blocked a House-passed bill to temporarily fund the government for four weeks.
The federal government has been running on a series of four stopgap funding bills since the 2018 fiscal year began Oct. 1 because Congress cannot agree on budget levels.
Republicans, who are the majority in the House and Senate, want increased military funding, and Democrats insist on parity for other federal operations.
The GOP hold on the Senate is slim, just 51 seats, when 60 votes are typically needed to break a filibuster and pass most legislation. So Democrats, who hold 49 seats, used their leverage to demand concessions on budgeting, immigration and other issues.
Tops on the Democrats’ priority list is legislation to protect the Dreamers. But Republicans want a massive overhaul of immigration law to reduce the flow of legal migrants as well as stem the flow of illegal immigration. Democrats say the White House demands go beyond the outlines of an initial, more limited deal to protect Dreamers in exchange for more border security.
Lawmakers on both sides also want to extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program, provide more disaster assistance to states hit hard by hurricanes and wildfires, and focus on other issues that have bipartisan backing.
More immediately, they are trying to insulate themselves from voter blowback.
Some are promising to donate their congressional salaries during the shutdown and others have introduced bills to ensure some government services — especially pay and benefits for military troops — are not disrupted.