WASHINGTON — The federal government shut down at midnight Friday after Senate Democrats blocked a House Republican short-term spending bill, though the two sides continued to discuss finding a way to an agreement.
As government funding lapsed, curtailing many services and furloughing employees, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressed hope the shutdown would be short lived as he called for the Senate to resume deliberations at noon Saturday.
But the shutdown also created bitter recriminations, as McConnell blamed Democrats and their leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), for irresponsibly holding the country “hostage,” and Schumer charged Republicans and President Donald Trump with creating chaos and disarray.
McConnell said he would seek to reopen government with an amended short-term spending bill that would last through Feb. 8, though it was unclear if he had the votes.
But the White House took a hard line against Democrats, blaming them for the shutdown of the government because they insisted on adding legislation to protect Dreamers, the immigrants illegally brought here as children.
“We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “This is the behavior of obstructionist losers, not legislators.”
She added, “When Democrats start paying our armed forces and first responders we will reopen negotiations on immigration reform.”
Late Friday night, Senate Republicans failed to get the 60 votes needed to overcome the Democrats’ block on moving to approve the House-passed short-term bill to keep the government open through Feb. 16 in a 50-49 vote.
With the vote, Senate Republicans demonstrated they could have passed the funding measure on a simple majority vote. But the tally also showed members in each party bucked their leadership.
Four Republicans voted to uphold the filibuster that kept them from bringing the House bill to the floor, and five moderate Democrats, who are up for re-election from states that supported President Donald Trump, voted to end it.
A flurry of negotiations occurred throughout the day — including a trip to the White House by Schumer to confer with President Donald Trump — but by the time of the 10 p.m. vote there was, as Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) put it, “No deal.”
Trump signaled the impending failure of the vote with a tweet before it took place.
“Not looking good for our great Military or Safety & Security on the very dangerous Southern Border. Dems want a Shutdown in order to help diminish the great success of the Tax Cuts, and what they are doing for our booming economy,” he tweeted.
McConnell waited until late in the evening to hold the vote to consider the spending bill to fund the government to Feb. 16, extend the Child Health Insurance Program for six years and delay some Obamacare taxes.
But it was widely expected to fail — McConnell did not have a big enough majority to provide the 60 votes needed to break the Democrats’ filibuster.
And true progress was not expected until after that vote, as both sides offer alternatives to reaching an agreement to keep the government running — even as both sides heavily engaged in the blame game, pinning responsibility for any closing on each other.
Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney, who dubbed a closure the “Schumer shutdown,” acknowledged the vote would fail, but had predicted on CNN, “I think there is a deal in the next 24 hours.”
But Mulvaney, who as a congressman helped lead the 2013 government shutdown, said, “If the Senate changes anything, it’s going to have to go back to the House. Now in theory, the Senate could deal with it before midnight and the House could in some fashion deal with it before midnight. It’s more likely that if the Senate makes any changes it would take the House a while to get everybody back for the vote.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and other Senate Democrats, in turn, turned the blame on the president and Republicans, often with a poster titled “Trump Shutdown,” quoting Trump’s tweet from last May saying, “Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix this mess.”
On Friday afternoon, however, Trump met with Schumer in the White House Oval Office for nearly 90 minutes, and both later said they had made progress but still had not reached a deal to keep the government open.
“Excellent preliminary meeting in Oval with @SenSchumer — working on solutions for Security and our great Military together with @SenateMajldr McConnell and @SpeakerRyan. Making progress — four week extension would be best!” Trump tweeted Friday afternoon.
When Schumer returned to Capitol Hill, he also expressed some optimism. “We had a long and detailed meeting. We discussed all of the major outstanding issues,” he said. “We made some progress, but we still have a good number of disagreements. The discussions will continue.”
Trump’s decision to meet with Schumer showed a change in tactics, after he baited Democrats early Friday with a tweet calling for more Republican victories in 2018 and adding, “Shutdown coming?”
Not only did Trump meet with Schumer, with just White House Chief of Staff John Kelly in the room, the president also canceled his midafternoon flight to Florida to go to his Mar-a-Lago golf resort for the weekend.
Meanwhile, House leaders alerted members they should remain flexible and available in case of a vote. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) said he would stay in Washington for a few more days, even though the House is scheduled to be off next week.
The heart of the dispute is the Democrats’ insistence that any bill to fund the government should also include legislation to extend protection to immigrants brought here illegally as children, called Dreamers by their supporters — a demand Republicans reject.
And Republicans reacted skeptically to Schumer’s and other Democrats’ proposal to pass a five-day spending bill, without any other measures attached to it, instead of the longer four- week deal with funding for children’s health insurance and delay on some taxes.
Schumer said the five-day bill would allow both sides to resolve differences over a range of budgetary issues, including spending caps, money to address opioid addiction, community health care centers — and the immigration issue at the core of the dispute.
“I just don’t know what that gets,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), part of the Republican leadership team. “They think we can solve all these issues in three or four days. But I don’t think that’s possible. There are too many moving parts here.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said, “I just hope to keep the government open. And we’ve got to pass a budget for the rest of fiscal year 2018.”