McConnell blocks Senate Democrats' move to reopen government

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a move by Senate Democrats on Thursday to get the chamber to vote on spending bills to reopen the government...

Posted: Jan 10, 2019 1:14 PM
Updated: Jan 10, 2019 2:30 PM

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a move by Senate Democrats on Thursday to get the chamber to vote on spending bills to reopen the government on day 20 of the ongoing partial shutdown.

In a back-and-forth on the Senate floor, Senate Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, on Thursday called for the Senate to take up legislation advanced by House Democrats to reopen shuttered parts of the federal government and argued that parts of the federal government not related to the border wall should be re-opened immediately as negotiations continue over the border wall, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell objected to the move, saying that 'political stunts are not going to get us anywhere.'

McConnell has made clear that he won't take up any legislation related to the shutdown in the Senate that President Donald Trump won't sign. And the President has dug in in his refusal to sign legislation that does not meet his demand for roughly $5 billion for a border wall, which Democrats refuse to provide.

'The last thing we need to do right now is trade pointless -- absolutely pointless -- show votes back and forth across the aisle,' McConnell said on the floor. He added, 'The political stunts are not going to get us anywhere.'

McConnell instead blamed Democrats for the impasse, saying that the shutdown has been 'prolonged by my Democratic colleagues' refusal to even come to the table.'

But the effort is a way for Senate Democrats to put pressure on Senate Republicans amid the ongoing government shutdown and highlight the legislation passed by the new House Democratic majority to reopen government.

Schumer argued that Senate Republicans must take action even if the President remains entrenched in his position.

'Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans have a responsibility, not simply to wait for the President, but to intervene,' Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor.

Prospects for any kind of a deal appear even dimmer after Trump declared on Wednesday that a meeting with Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to discuss the shutdown was 'a total waste of time.'

The House passed a legislative package last week that would end the shutdown and has started passing a series of bills this week that would open back up closed federal agencies, but the White House has issued veto threats for the legislation.

There have been signs in the past week that cracks are emerging among Senate Republicans with several GOP senators saying that they would support ending the partial shutdown even without a border wall deal.

But the President still has a critical mass of congressional Republicans supporting him and McConnell has remained firm in saying he will only take up legislation to reopen government that the President backs.

After Trump stormed out of a White House meeting with congressional leaders, GOP senators privately gathered in Sen. Lindsey Graham's office on Wednesday to discuss a way out of the logjam. The long-shot idea: propose an immigration deal that would include $5.7 billion for Trump's border wall along with several provisions that could entice Democrats. The plan is in its very early stages, however, and its chances of success are still uncertain at best.

GOP senators meet in McConnell's office

On Thursday morning, a group of Republican senators, many who met in Graham's office last night, gathered in McConnell's office. The group that convened included Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Richard Shelby, the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Rob Portman of Ohio and Susan Collins of Maine.

McConnell walked into his office after leaving the Senate floor, where he objected to the Democratic request to re-open the government.

'I think the way out has been apparent for several weeks,' he told reporters. 'It requires an agreement between a Democratic House, the Democrats in the Senate and the President.'

After the meeting broke up, members were fairly tight-lipped about any details. Some described what they were working on as a 'framework' or 'skeleton' they were trying to fill in.

'We've got a skeleton we're trying to flesh out. It's going to take work,' Tillis told reporters.

Shelby said he planned to meet with the vice president on Thursday and that during the meeting in McConnell's office, Republicans 'talked about any number of things that we hope, mainly a lot of hope that the Democrats would realize that this is a serious situation in America when about 800,000 people are going to be out of pay and everything else. We'd hope that they would come to the table.'

Murkowski said she'd describe what they were working on as a 'framework' and that they had a good meeting, but that it's too early to talk about details.

House Democrats plan to continue voting on bills to end shutdown

Despite the fact that any bills without Trump's request for wall funding are dead on arrival in the Senate for now, House Democrats plan to keep moving ahead with legislation to reopen government -- without new wall money.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday that House Democrats would continue to vote on spending bills next week to reopen shuttered parts of government.

Talking about Wednesday's meeting, Pelosi described Trump as 'unpresidential' and accused his team of staging the event. 'Not only was the President unpresidential -- surprise, surprise -- yesterday in his behavior, I think the meeting was a setup, so he could walk out, but I'll say just that.'

'I don't even know that the President wants the wall, I think he just wants to debate on the wall,' she added.

This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.

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