McConnell, Schumer Meet Privately to Discuss New Deal to End Government Shutdown

January 24, 2019, 11:27 PM UTC

Senators began a new effort to end the 34-day partial government shutdown after blocking two rival spending bills. The White House signaled President Donald Trump was open to a plan to reopen agencies for three weeks, but at a price.

“The three-week CR would only work if there is a large down payment on the wall,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday, referring to a stopgap spending bill and the president’s demand for $5.7 billion for a wall at the southern border.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer met privately in McConnell’s office to discuss a path forward, and Schumer came out later, smiling. “We’re talking, we’re talking,” he said.

GOP Senator Lindsey Graham said he hoped a deal could be reached after he spoke with the president about a bipartisan proposal to fund the shuttered federal agencies for three weeks. He said such a measure would have to contain additional provisions to satisfy both sides: funding for a “wall/barrier” to please Trump and disaster aid to please Democrats.

“If we can get in a room, we can fix this, and it won’t take three weeks,” said Graham of South Carolina.

Trump told reporters at the White House that if a stopgap spending bill passed without wall money, “I wouldn’t be happy. But we have a lot of alternatives.”

Two Proposals

Earlier Thursday, the Senate rejected two proposals—one by Trump and one by Democrats—intended to reopen the government. They were the first votes the Senate has taken on funding the government since the Dec. 22 start of the shutdown, now the longest in modern U.S. history.

“We will not Cave!” Trump tweeted a few hours before the votes.

At the same time, a bipartisan group of 16 senators—eight from each party—took to the chamber’s floor to say they want to reopen the government for three weeks to allow time for work on a bipartisan border security deal.

“I think we can do this together,” said Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a leader of the effort. “But we can’t do it with the government shut down.”

The Democratic proposal to reopen the government attracted two more votes than the Trump-backed Republican plan, but both fell well short of the 60 needed to advance. The Democratic measure would have reopened agencies until Feb. 8 to allow talks on a border security plan but wouldn’t have funded a wall. Trump’s proposal would have spent $5.7 billion on a border wall.

Six Republicans voted to advance the Democratic bill: Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Murkowski, and Mitt Romney of Utah. Three senators, two Republicans and a Democrat, were absent.

Just last month, the Republican-controlled Senate had backed the Democratic measure by voice vote before Trump suddenly opposed it, triggering the closure.

State of the Union

The president late Wednesday acquiesced to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s cancellation of his planned Jan. 29 State of the Union address in her chamber until the government reopens. The Treasury Department, Department of Homeland Security, and Environmental Protection Agency are closed as Trump fights for his 2016 campaign promise to build a wall at the border with Mexico.

In advance of the votes, McConnell called Trump’s plan a “pragmatic compromise that could end this impasse right away” by getting the president’s signature. He said the Democrats’ temporary measure creates the possibility of a new crisis in several weeks when funding expires.

Schumer said Trump’s proposal was a “harshly partisan” plan that would give the president all he wants before reopening the government. The Democratic proposal would reopen federal agencies and allow time for negotiations over border security, he said.

The pain inflicted by the shutdown is “getting deeper and deeper every day,” with 800,000 federal employees set to miss another paycheck on Friday, Schumer said.

Trump’s proposal faced strong objections from Democrats who oppose the wall and the plan’s changes in immigration law including new limits on asylum claims by Central American minors. It would have temporarily protected some young undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The White House had said Trump would veto the Democratic measure, which was previously passed by the House. Overcoming a veto would require two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate, and votes so far have shown support well below that amount.

House Democrats say they are preparing to offer a proposal to boost border security—but not build a wall—by spending an amount close to the $5.7 billion he wants for the wall.