Blame Game Ramps Up as Shutdown Draws Near
The House passed legislation Thursday to temporarily keep the government open, but it appears doomed in the Senate ahead of a potential vote Friday.
Hours after the House voted, debate in the upper chamber devolved into a partisan blame-game, with Democratic and Republican leaders digging in their heels, convinced that the other party would suffer the political consequences of a government funding lapse.
Republicans argued that they successfully funded the government in the House, and their legislation provided time to continue negotiating bipartisan agreements on immigration and long-term spending levels. The GOP also would have provided most of the votes in the Senate to keep the government open – though, crucially, they were likely several votes short of funding it on their own, even without a filibuster from Democrats.
“The only people standing in the way of keeping the government open are Senate Democrats,” Speaker Paul Ryan said shortly after the House vote. “Whether there is a government shutdown or not is now entirely up to them.”
Democrats countered that Republicans control all levers of power in government, and that it was incumbent on them to negotiate legislation that could pass both chambers, rather than force a take-it-or-leave-it option. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer blamed President Trump for the lack of an immigration agreement, and said his wavering on what he would sign to solve the looming DACA crisis made it impossible to find a bipartisan agreement before the shutdown deadline.
“The White House has done nothing but sow chaos and confusion, division and disarray,” Schumer said. “And it may just lead us to a government shutdown that nobody wants, that all of us here have been striving to avoid.”
It wasn’t clear early Thursday if Democrats would need to threaten a filibuster to hold up the short-term spending bill. The hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus had threatened to withhold enough votes to tank the bill in the lower chamber, hoping to force leadership to provide concessions. After negotiations that lasted until just an hour before the House vote, the Freedom Caucus won several minor concessions and agreed to support the short-term funding patch.
But it was clear at that point that the House measure would fail in the Senate. Most Democrats opposed it, and several Senate Republicans also said they opposed it – enough that it wouldn’t have passed even without a filibuster. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blamed Democrats for their intransigence, arguing on the Senate floor there was nothing in the legislation they actually opposed, but that they were holding it hostage for a solution on immigration. Schumer, meanwhile, pushed for an immediate vote, hoping it would fail and force further negotiations.
When the Senate reconvenes Friday, lawmakers will have just hours to negotiate a solution, with both parties appearing prepared to hold firm. Meanwhile, the White House expressed little immediate concern over the shutdown deadline. Trump traveled to Pennsylvania Thursday to campaign for a Republican candidate in a House special election, and is scheduled to fly to Mar-a-Lago Friday afternoon, just hours before the deadline.
If the government does shut down Saturday, it will be on the one-year anniversary of the president’s inauguration.
Lawmakers in both parties were confident they would avoid blame, but it’s unclear precisely whom the public will fault if a shutdown does occur. Democrats’ main demand remains a solution for Dreamers – the immigrants brought to this country illegally as children who gained protected status under an executive order from President Obama, which Trump rescinded, effective in March. Eighty-seven percent of respondents supported protected status for those immigrants, including an overwhelming majority of both Democrats and Republicans, according to a CBS News poll.
But only 46 percent said it was worth shutting down the government over those immigrants’ status. For the minority party, the poll provided a serious dilemma: More than half of Democratic respondents said the issue was worth shutting down the government, but 37 percent said it wasn’t. Independents were split almost down the middle.
In a Quinnipiac poll, blame for a shutdown was closely split: 21 percent would blame Trump most; 32 percent would blame congressional Republicans most; and 34 would blame congressional Democrats. Those percentages remained relatively stable for independent voters.
Voters may soon forget the brinksmanship if a deal is reached to avoid a shutdown; they may also hold incumbents in both parties equally accountable in a deal isn’t reached; or it may have little to no effect on the midterm elections still 10 months away. Republicans’ polling numbers dropped sharply after they were blamed for a government shutdown in 2013, but they nonetheless won control of the Senate a little more than a year later.
“No one is pulling the lever on that issue,” one GOP operative predicted earlier this week.