Countdown to Shutdown as House Bill Flounders on Capitol Hill

President Donald Trump speaks during a signing ceremony for H.R. 2, the “Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018,” in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, on the White House complex, on Dec. 20, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (CN) – At odds with a president who won’t budge on his demand for $5 billion in border-wall funding, the Republican-controlled Senate appears unlikely Friday to pass a bill that would avert a government shutdown.

A House bill that includes funding for the wall was put to a vote in the Senate at about 12:30 this afternoon but remains unfinished hours later as Republicans debate their next step in a room just off the Senate floor.

The short-term bill, which would fund the government at current levels through Feb. 8, appears doomed to fail.

“I’m trying to figure out if the quickest way to get to a solution is to get on [the House bill] – we know it’s not going to pass – and demonstrate it’s not going to pass, or just to leave it open for a while and come up with the right solution and send it back to the House,” Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told reporters as he walked into a Senate chamber.

About 10 lawmakers have yet to cast a vote on the measure. A vote of such length is relatively unusual in the Senate. As of 4 p.m., the vote stood at 44-46 against bringing the House-passed bill to the Senate floor.

Senator Jeff Flake, one of the Republicans opposing the bill, criticized the delay. “I don’t see any reason to proceed to a bill that can’t pass,” Flake said. “I’d rather find that out sooner rather than later and find a bill that can pass.”

But Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., noted that lawmakers are still streaming in.

“The next thing to do is begin to negotiate, but it’s easier to do that when this is worked out one way or the other,” Blunt said. “We’re still waiting on a couple other members to fly in and vote.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has expressed support for the bill, but Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., noted that Republicans need more.

“At this point we have to engage the majority leader and figure out how we can get to 60 votes,” Tillis said.

Just a day earlier President Donald Trump torpedoed the continuing resolution that the Senate passed unanimously because it did not include $5 billion for the wall.

Senator Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said Friday that Trump’s last-minute about-face was unexpected. Without a continuing resolution, the government will run out of funding by midnight to stay fully open.

“I think he had thought that he would be able to accept it, but once he saw the reception from the base, I think it strengthened his resolve to try to move forward and unfortunately that puts us in this position that we’ve got right now,” Rounds said.

The House pushed another bill through its chambers Thursday thanks to a conservative majority, but its funding for Trump’s border agenda makes the measure unlikely to win Senate approval.

Tillis did not put much stock in the chance of a stop-gap measure that would keep the government funded into next week. 

“The key here is we’ve got to get clarity from the president as to what his priorities are and then get some sort of consensus the minority leader on how to get it done,” Tillis said. “We’re not going to get into an expansive policy discussion, I don’t think we’re gonna get to that.”

Trump tweeted this morning that the shutdown could “last for a very long time.” Though the president boasted previously that that he would “take the mantle” for a government shutdown in the name of stronger immigration enforcement, he lost his appetite for the blame this morning. “If enough Dems don’t vote,” Trump tweeted, “it will be a Democrat Shutdown!”

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., criticized the failure to compromise. 

“The shutdown should never be a part of a budget negotiation,” Alexander said. “A government shutdown should be thought of the same way you think of chemical warfare in real warfare. It should never even be considered. It’s an admission of failure by negotiators. … We were sent here to make the government operate for the taxpayers not to shut it down.”

Trump called on McConnell to use the “nuclear option” to overcome a legislative filibuster, but McConnell would still need full Republican backing to meet that 50-vote threshold.

McConnell firmly resisted this move, which would end bipartisan agreement rules in the Senate.

On the Senate floor today, Schumer called the last five days “the most chaotic week of what’s undoubtedly the most chaotic presidency ever in the history of the United States.”

Senator John Kennedy, R-La., told reporters he is prepared to be in Washington until Christmas to work out a solution, but said the path forward is still not clear.

“I don’t know how it ends yet,” Kennedy told reporters. “I just think it will end eventually, and we’ll reach an agreement. I’m not surprised to find us here, I said two weeks ago that I thought the president wasn’t bluffing, and clearly he’s not bluffing in my judgment. He feels strongly about a wall, and my Democratic friends have jerked him around enough on it. He’s mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore, is my impression.”

Without a solution come Saturday, thousands of government employees will be working without pay or furloughed for the holiday season.

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