Government shutdown watch: Key Senate vote scheduled for Friday night
(CNN) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has scheduled a key procedural vote Friday night on a plan to avert a government shutdown, but it’s still unclear if there are enough votes to keep the government open.
McConnell set the vote on the proposal at 10 p.m. ET. Sixty votes will be needed to advance the bill.
President Donald Trump showed his support for the Republican-backed plan to fund the government for four weeks just hours ahead of the deadline for a government shutdown.
“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 evening, a reference to the Republican-backed plan of funding government for the next four weeks as opposed to just a couple of days, as pitched by Democratic leaders.
The House passed a measure Thursday night to continue funding the government through mid-February, but Republican leaders in the Senate don’t have the 60 votes they need to advance it through their chamber and avoid a shutdown.
On Friday afternoon, McConnell got a second and third Senate Democrat — Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana and later Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — to say that they would vote to keep the government open. However, since at least two Republicans have said they’ll vote against the measure, the Kentucky Republican still might need as many as dozen more members of the opposing party in order to pass the plan. A Senate aide told CNN Friday evening that a bipartisan group of senators met to discuss the spending bill.
With fewer than five hours until the government runs out of funding, House Republicans — who had already passed their short-term spending bill — were instructed to stay close to the Capitol.
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” that as efforts continue to reach an agreement, “we’re in a weekend so we have a little more flexibility here.”
On Friday evening, Trump also spoke by phone to House Speaker Paul Ryan, according to a source familiar.
Not speaking to each other: McConnell and Schumer. Three sources told CNN that the two leaders in the Senate had not spoken to each other on Friday as of 5 p.m. ET and have no conversations scheduled.
Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pennsylvania, described the mood on the House floor Friday morning as “a state of bewilderment and confusion,” as members braced themselves for the possibility that they either would see a shutdown or be forced to take whatever bill the Senate sent to them.
“The Senate will likely jam us,” Dent predicted.
Details of the Schumer meeting
Earlier Friday, Trump called Schumer and invited the New York Democrat personally, a person familiar with the plans told CNN.
Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly was the only White House official present at the meeting, a person familiar told CNN.
McConnell was not at the meeting, a source said, adding that he and Trump have been in touch during the day by telephone. Neither was Ryan, who was addressing the “March for Life” rally around the same time. McConnell and Ryan were aware that the White House was going to invite Schumer to the White House, one Republican source said.
“We had a long and detailed meeting,” Schumer told reporters in brief remarks he made upon returning the Capitol, but he did not include any specifics from their discussion. “We made good progress and will continue.”
Schumer then met with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin in his office.
“I think the leader made a statement that progress had been made but much more needs to be done,” Pelosi told CNN upon leaving Schumer’s office.
“It’s in the hands of the leader,” Durbin told CNN.
White House aides made clear to GOP staff this morning there was no daylight between the President and Hill Republicans this morning, especially on immigration, according to two sources.
Still, some congressional leaders eyed the Schumer meeting warily.
When asked by CNN if he was worried about Trump meeting with only Schumer, Sen. John Cornyn responded, “The thought did cross my mind.”
“I don’t think there is” going to be a shutdown, Cornyn said, but added, “I can’t tell you exactly what the path forward is right now.”
The mood on Capitol Hill: Both sides talking past each other
A Democratic senator told CNN a realization set in at the Senate gym Friday morning that Republicans and Democrats were just talking past each other and making incorrect assumptions about how to address each others’ issues and demands seriously upping the odds of a shutdown.
Several GOP senators, for example, were trying to find out from Democrats why they are dug in against the House’s short-term spending mechanism. Why won’t they believe that Republicans will deal with DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, later? The program expires March 5, but Republicans’ message to their colleagues was “come on, you know we won’t deport DACA recipients.”
Democrats, however, feel trust has eroded after immigration negotiations broke down last week when Trump went from saying he’d accept a bipartisan solution on DACA in one meeting and then two days later rejecting a bill authored by South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican, and Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin. In that same meeting Trump used vulgar language to describe the African countries where some immigrants come from.
Adding to the angst was the fact that Graham and Durbin thought they were gaining momentum on their bill this week and were winning over more Republicans only to hear that GOP leaders had convinced several of those Republicans to peel back off. Graham and Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona who also worked on the bipartisan bill, have said they will not support the House-passed CR.
At this point, Senate Republicans are hoping to get more guidance from Trump and the White House about how to proceed. However, a bipartisan group of senators — members who know and have long-standing relationships with one another– have yet to sit down and try to hammer out a compromise.
House Democrats rally ahead of shutdown
House Democrats gathered for lunch from We The Pizza on Friday to discuss strategy, bursting into spontaneous bouts of applause and cheers at time.
“Democrats are determined and defiant about this,” Virginia Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly said leaving the meeting. “We don’t want the government to shut down and we feel it’s the obligation of the majority to work with us to make sure that does not happen.” Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley said it had a “pep rally” atmosphere but was largely about stating the current situation.
Inside, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Whip Steny Hoyer spoke, and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin crossed the Capitol to update their colleagues on how negotiations with the majority are going.
“He indicated that they want to stop kicking the can down the road and they want a real funding bill for the federal government,” Connolly said of Durbin. “There may be a few day kind of proposal to try to allow that to happen, but Democrats are sick of continuing resolutions and the damage they do. In terms of any long range planning and the damage they do to national security.”
As he was leaving, Hoyer said Democrats have little interest in any more continuing resolutions.
“We’re going to see what the Senate does,” Hoyer said when CNN asked about a few-days-long CR. “Kicking the can down the road, four days, forty days, that would have been the fifth CR. We need to get his resolved, we need to get to agreement.”
House members had been scheduled to be on recess next week, but many said they weren’t going home until they knew there was resolution.
“I’m not going home if the government shuts down,” said Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson.
Rep. Austin Scott, a Republican from Georgia, told CNN that he was also prepared to stay, although he added “Mitch McConnell needs to stand and fight.”
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