WASHINGTON — Congress made little progress Saturday toward agreeing on a spending bill to reopen the government the day after funding lapsed, as Republicans and Democrats spent most of an unusual Saturday session blaming each other.
Both sides engaged in behind-the-scenes talks as they insisted they wanted to quickly end the stalemate and avoid letting it stretch into Monday, when Americans would see closed government offices, furloughed employees, and unpaid military and security officials.
Yet neither side backed down from the confrontation that began Friday night when Senate Democrats blocked consideration of a House bill to fund the government for another four weeks because it did not include a fix for an expiring immigration program.
Shortly before the Senate adjourned Saturday evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called for the body to reconvene at 1 p.m. Sunday. And he vowed to hold a vote on a compromise measure to fund government for three weeks at 1 a.m. on Monday, when Senate rules would allow him to bring it up.
He placed the blame directly on Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for creating obstacles.
“Senate Republicans remain ready and eager to end this manufactured crisis,” McConnell said. “All the country needs is for the Democratic leader to withdraw his filibuster and let a bipartisan majority pass this bill and reopen the United States government.”
Schumer stood firm in blocking McConnell’s bill, a compromise that would shorten the stopgap bill to funding the government for three weeks instead of four, and demanded a full budget agreement as well as a fix for immigrants brought here illegally as children.
“In our democracy, you have to compromise if you wish to govern,” Schumer said. “And yet time and time again, the Republican leader believes he can just drop legislation on the floor, say take it or leave it, and then gear up the machines of partisan war if we decide to leave it.”
President Donald Trump and House Republicans insisted that Democrats vote to fund government before any talks on immigration take place. “Senate Democrats shut down this government, and now Senate Democrats need to open this government back up,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said.
Schumer complained that his attempts to negotiate a deal with Trump and Republicans had been rebuffed.
“Negotiating with President Trump is like negotiating with Jell-O,” Schumer said. A “paralysis” has set in, he said, because “the president can’t make a deal and congressional Republicans won’t.”
Schumer said he nearly had a deal with Trump after their White House meeting on Friday, but that Trump later called and changed the terms of the agreement and then rejected it as he added more conditions that Democrats must meet.
Schumer said Trump indicated he could accept a bipartisan deal on DACA and one-week stopgap funding bill after Schumer agreed to the funding that Trump wants to build a Mexico border wall. But hours later, Schumer said, Trump called back and rejected the deal.
Later Saturday, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney and legislative affairs director Marc Short disputed Schumer’s version of the meeting, saying Schumer only offered $1.6 billion in the current year for the wall, not the entire $20 billion Trump wants.
“Mr. Schumer has to up his game and be more honest with the president of the United States if we are going to be seeing progress,” Mulvaney said.
Schumer spokesman Matt House shot back in a tweet that Mulvaney wasn’t in the meeting and was not “telling the truth” about what transpired.
The government closed at midnight Friday after Democrats blocked a Senate vote on a House-passed bill to fund the government for a month, through Feb. 16, and to approve a six-year extension of the Child Health Insurance Program and delays on some Obamacare taxes.
Led by Schumer, the Democrats insisted that the bill should include a measure to fix DACA, which Trump last September ordered to expire on March 5. McConnell and Republicans insist DACA is unrelated to the funding, and that there’s ample time to negotiate the DACA fix.
Five Republicans joined 44 Democrats in blocking the vote on the House bill, and five conservative-state Democrats voted with Republicans to move forward. The 50-49 vote fell short of the required 60 votes, however.
Trump spent Saturday at the White House calling and talking to Republicans, after canceling a trip to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where he had planned to attend a Saturday night fundraiser and celebration of his first year in office.
“This is the One Year Anniversary of my Presidency and the Democrats wanted to give me a nice present,” he tweeted, recalling his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017.
Trump laid the blame on Democrats, tweeting, “Democrats are holding our Military hostage over their desire to have unchecked illegal immigration. Can’t let that happen!”
He also noted, with irony, the thousands of women who marched in Washington and across the country to protest his presidency and policies by touting his accomplishments.
“Beautiful weather all over our great country, a perfect day for all Women to March,” he tweeted. “Get out there now to celebrate the historic milestones and unprecedented economic success and wealth creation that has taken place over the last 12 months. Lowest female unemployment in 18 years!”
A previous version of this story said the government closed at midnight Friday after Democrats blocked a Senate vote on a House-passed bill to approve a six-month extension of the Child Health Insurance Program.