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Bipartisan senators negotiate to end government shutdown

Illegal immigrants holding up agreement; President Trump might get his wall

Posted: Jan 21, 2018 7:56 PM

(ABC News) A bipartisan group of about 20 senators met Sunday to try to broker a government funding compromise — a series of private negotiations and conversations aimed at ending a two day standoff that threatens to drag on into the start of the work week on Monday.

The lawmakers presented their ideas to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and the two leaders then met behind closed doors to discuss. McConnell has scheduled a vote for 1:00 am Monday to cut off debate.
One senator in the bipartisan working group, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said he was hopeful a solution could be reached Sunday night.


WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 19: (L-R) Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) walk out of a Democratic Caucus meeting at the US Capitol on January 19, 2018 in Washington, DC.

"If it doesn't happen tonight, it's going to get a lot harder tomorrow," Graham told reporters.
Graham said he planned to vote yes on a McConnell proposal to extend funding three weeks until Feb. 8 instead of the four-week funding to Feb. 16 as called for in the stopgap funding bill passed by the House.

Graham said he knew of 52 other senators who would vote yes if McConnell promised to bring up a bill Democrats want to protect Dreamers — some 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

It wasn't immediately clear whether that meant there would be enough votes to pass the funding bill — or if Democrats would agree.

Asked about the criticism from Schumer and other Democrats that they can't trust the president to make a deal, Graham said, "Well, he's still the president, and a lot of people on our side don't trust Chuck. I'm not asking people to trust anybody, I'm asking people to grow up and realize we are in charge of the House and Senate and that we have an obligation to work across the aisle."

The legislative impasse could affect thousands of federal workers and the citizens they serve as staffing at most agencies would have to operate at small fraction of normal levels. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney sent a memo to the heads of federal agencies and executive departments on Saturday urging them to prepare.

There is no "clear indication that the Congress will act in time" to fund the government by Sunday night, the memo said.
The last government shutdown in 2013 cost U.S. taxpayers $24 billion, or $1.5 billion a day, according to a Standards & Poor’s estimate.

STALEMATE ON ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION

Earlier Sunday, finger-pointing on both sides of the aisle continued on the Senate floor as McConnell and Schumer blamed each other for the impasse.

McConnell said Schumer has made the "extraordinary and destructive choice" to filibuster instead of compromise to end the government shutdown.

He said President Trump was poised to sign a bipartisan bill hammered out to extend government funding for three weeks — until he met with Schumer over lunch on Friday and the Democratic leader demanded that the bill include provisions to protect recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — currently protected under the policy begun under President Obama.

"Now it's the second day of the Senate Democrat shutdown filibuster and the Senate Democrats' shutdown of the federal government because the president wouldn't resolve months of ongoing negotiations over massive issues in one brief meeting and give the Democratic leader everything he wants," McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor just after 1 p.m. "My friend across the aisle has shut down the government for hundreds of millions of Americans."

He said Schumer and the Democrats were needlessly displaying "pure political folly." He said bipartisan negotiations over DACA have been underway for months, "but they can go nowhere until the Senate Democrats realize the extreme path their leader has charted leads them nowhere."

Soon after McConnell yielded the floor, Schumer placed blame for the stalemate on Trump and Republicans.

“The way out of this is simple — our parties are very close on all of the issues we have been debating for months now, so close I believed we might have a deal twice, only for the president to change his mind and walk away," Schumer said. "The president must take yes for an answer. Until he does, it's the Trump shutdown."

Schumer said during his meeting with Trump on Friday, he offered to compromise by tentatively agreeing to fund a wall on the Mexican border in exchange for DACA protections.

“The president picked a number for a wall, I accepted it. It wasn't my number. It wasn't the number in the bills here. He picked it," he said. "Now, it would be hard to imagine such a more reasonable compromise. All along, the president is saying, well, I will do DACA and Dreamers in return for the wall. He's got it. Can't take yes for an answer.

"We are a government that can only operate if the majority party, the governing party, accepts and seeks compromise," Schumer added. "The majority, however, has forgotten the lesson of the Founding Fathers. They have shown that they do not know how to compromise. Not only do they not consult with us, they can't even get on the same page with their president, a president from their own party. The congressional leaders tell me to negotiate with President Trump. President Trump tells me to figure it out with the congressional leaders. This political catch-22, never seen before, has driven our government to dysfunction."

He said the reason for the dysfunction is a "dysfunctional president."

"Hence, we are in a Trump shutdown and party leaders who won't act without him," Schumer said. "It has created the chaos and the gridlock we find ourselves in today. It all really stems from the president, whose inability to clinch a deal has created the Trump shutdown."

Trump stayed out of the public eye Sunday.

Instead, he was working the phones, at least calling Republicans, according to the White House. Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said on FOX News that the president might speak to the American public on Monday. He said Trump had spoken on the phone Sunday with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Sen. John Cornyn, and Secretary of Veteran Affairs David Shulkin and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

Republicans have maintained that DACA and immigration reform must be handled separately from government funding, and say they are unwilling to negotiate until the government is reopened.

THREATS TO USE "NUCLEAR OPTION"

In a Sunday morning tweet, Trump accused Democrats of wanting illegal immigrants to "pour into our nation unchecked" and suggested Republicans should use the "nuclear option" - changing longtime Senate rules to allow a simple majority vote of 51 (rather than 60) — to vote on a long-term budget if the shutdown continues.

Republican leaders in the Senate appear to have little appetite for following through on Trump’s call to end the filibuster by imposing the nuclear option. A spokesman for McConnell said, “The Republican Conference opposes changing the rules on legislation.”

Democrats raised alarm bells Sunday about Trump’s threat to use the so-called “nuclear option.” On ABC’s “This Week,” Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democratic Whip, said ending the filibuster “would be the end of the Senate as it was originally devised and created going back to our Founding Fathers.”

“We have to acknowledge our respect for the minority, and that is what the Senate tries to do in its composition and in its procedure,” Durbin said.

There are currently 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats (including two independents who tend to caucus with Democrats).
McConnell vowed that the short-term measure will have its day on the floor, even after Democrats rebuffed his efforts to advance the bill.

“Earlier today, I asked for consent to move up a vote on this bipartisan solution and end this craziness today. The Democrats objected. That won’t work forever. If they continue to object, we cannot proceed to a cloture vote until 1:00 am on Monday. But I assure you we will have the vote at 1:00am on Monday, unless there is a desire to have it sooner," McConnell said on Saturday.

The cloture vote will end debate on the Feb. 8 short term funding measure and it will need 60 votes in the Senate to pass — meaning it would need some Democratic support unless the "nuclear option" is used.

Mulvaney weighed in on the nuclear option on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday, describing the nuclear option as one option to break the stalemate.

"We've been critical of that 60-vote rule since the president took office. And I think what the president did this mooring is tried to shed some light on the fact that if ordinary rules prevailed, the majority ruled in the senate, the government would be open as of today," Mulvaney said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan on CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday said the House stands ready to pass the three-week extension if the Senate is able to pass the measure.

"We have agreed that we would accept that in the House, and so we will see some time today whether or not they have the votes for that," he said. "And that's really where we are right now."

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