On shutdown and DACA fix, more questions than answers

President Donald Trump -- with the quiet, but strong support of congressional Republican leaders -- ...

Posted: Jan 15, 2018 6:08 PM
Updated: Jan 15, 2018 6:08 PM

President Donald Trump -- with the quiet, but strong support of congressional Republican leaders -- has rejected the lone bipartisan proposal on the table to address the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Republicans fully plan to move forward on a short-term funding bill without a DACA deal or resolution.

Democrats are considering withholding their votes to keep the government funded

Tweets from Sens. Tom Cotton and Brian Schatz offer tea leaves for this week

Democrats are working behind the scenes to create momentum behind the proposal rejected by the President, but discussions internally and in phone calls throughout the weekend have turned to whether or not having a "shutdown moment" is where they want to be at this point in 2018.

In other words: Five days until the government runs out of money to fully operate and there are more questions than answers.

What are the odds of a government shutdown?

Look, the bottom line here is historically there have been some last minute agreement to keep things running, if only for a few weeks.

But this is the first time in recent memory, maybe ever, that Democrats are actively considering withholding their votes as their actual position -- using this as the moment to have the fight over DACA. And that means a shutdown grows more plausible -- if not likely -- by the day.

RELATED: The exhausting first year of Donald Trump's presidency

Again, the two questions that matter most right now:

  • Can House Speaker Paul Ryan get 218 Republican votes for a short-term funding bill, with the expectation that Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi holds her caucus unified against it?
  • Can Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pick off a dozen or so Democrats on a short-term funding bill, despite Democrats coalescing around the idea that this is their moment to fight?

The House and Senate are still out, so don't expect much publicly, but work continues behind the scenes by the "Gang of Six" to whip up support and create momentum for their effort.

The tea leaves

If you want to know where things stand on Capitol Hill, just five days before the government runs out of money, just take a look at these two tweets:

From Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican:

"So Democrats are now threatening to shut down the government if they don't get amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants. Let's see how that works out for them, especially in places like WV, IN, MO, ND, & MT."

And from Sen. Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat:

"Nobody wins a government shutdown battle but I do know one thing: If it happens it will be because a bipartisan compromise was rejected by Republicans. Anyone who says they want to avoid a shutdown should be asking for a vote on that compromise legislation."

In other words, we've entered the stage where both sides are focused on positioning for who gets the blame for a government shutdown. When lawmakers have already started to dig into that stage, it's not exactly a great sign for the days to come.

Where things are trending

According to multiple aides working on this, Senate Democrats are more and more leaning toward the idea of withholding their votes.

Why? There are three reasons.

First, there is a recognition that Republicans aren't anywhere close to a deal on DACA, and the funding bill is their lone piece of leverage at the moment to force the issue.

Second, you cannot overstate the impact of the President's "shithole" comments on the caucus -- it has hardened resolve and unified the group around the idea the President would get the blame.

Third, and perhaps most importantly: the fact there is a bipartisan proposal on the table, aides say, insulates them from the idea that they're shutting things down for shutdown's sake. "There is literally something to vote on to avoid this. If they won't put it on the floor, how is that our fault," one senior Democratic aide told me.

What Republicans are thinking

"If Democrats want to shut down the government over undocumented immigrants, knock yourselves out" is essentially the response you get from most Republican advisers at this point. They point to the Democrats running for re-election in 2018 in states Trump won and predict there's no way Schumer can hold them all together.

And what happens when McConnell tacks, say, a re-authorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program or the $80-billion-plus disaster relief bill, onto the funding bill votes? Are Democrats going to vote against that, too?

Bottom line is this: Republican leaders have no plans to, at the last minute, pull up the bipartisan "Gang of Six deal," according to aides. "Not gonna happen," one said bluntly. That means they are full-go to moving a short-term funding bill. The question is whether they'll have enough Democratic votes to get it done.

Keep an eye on: More and more, GOP aides, given the current impasse, are talking about the Trump administration, especially in the wake of the court order, extending DACA for a longer period of time. Especially now that the government is taking renewal applications again.

But: Those same aides acknowledge this could very well shut down the Senate for the rest of 2018, as Democrats (and some Republicans) are keen on resolving the issue -- and doing nothing else until it's done -- now.

And: This is a total non-starter for Democrats. The court order may not last and is viewed as temporary. The applications are only for renewal and not new applicants. And perhaps most importantly, the longer it lingers, the more outraged activists and the Democratic base over the issue.

As one Democratic aide put it, in the wake of the President's remarks: "This is the fight. It has to happen, whether it's now or later. We have the high ground now, so why hold off?"

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