Senate Advances Measure To End 3 Day Government Shutdown

Updated at 1:45 p.m. ET.

The Senate has advanced a stopgap spending bill that is the first step in ending the partial shutdown of the federal government, now in its third day.

Shortly before the Monday procedural vote was set to begin, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced that he would vote to reopen the government along with enough Democrats to assure it reaches the 60 votes needed to advance. After 24 hours of furious negotiation over plans to consider immigration legislation in the coming weeks, the Senate voted 81-18 to move forward with the continuing resolution, which would fund the government through Feb. 8.

In exchange for his support, Schumer said, he’s received assurances from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that if an agreement isn’t reached by then, the GOP leader will bring a vote to the floor on legislation to grant legal status to those protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), roughly 700,000 immigrants who are in the country illegally after being brought here as children.

Once the Senate bill passes, the House must pass the same measure in order to reopen the government. The bill would also extend the expired Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years.

McConnell claimed Democrats had caved because they realized holding out for a DACA deal tied to the funding deal was not wise politically.

“I think if we’ve learned anything during this process it’s that a strategy to shut down the government over the issue of illegal immigration is something that the American people didn’t understand,” McConnell said.

Schumer, however, argued that blame for the weekend-long stalemate laid at the president’s feet.

“The reason the Republican majority had such difficulty finding consensus is they could never get a firm grip on what the president of their party wanted to do. These days, you never know who to deal with when it comes to the Republicans,” Schumer said. “The Republican leaders told me to work out a deal with the White House. The White House said, work it out with Republican leaders on the Hill. Separately, President Trump turned away from not one, but two bipartisan compromises. Each would have avoided this shutdown.”

With the measure apparently moving forward, it will now be hard for Democrats to argue they extracted many concessions from GOP leaders. McConnell’s promise is just that — a promise. “Some of us struggle to trust him,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told NPR’s Morning Edition, “because of the famously vulgar way that President Trump sort of blew up the last time that Sens. [Lindsey] Graham and [Dick] Durbin offered him a bipartisan deal [on immigration].”

Democrats were trying to frame the deal as a temporary victory, though, with Senate Minority Whip Durbin, taking the floor to call the DACA issue the “civil rights issue of our time” and underscoring the importance of passing an immigration bill by the new deadline, which he said McConnell had assured them would be on a level playing field.

While many Senate Democrats had remained entrenched in their opposition to any funding deal that doesn’t include a DACA fix, a growing number of moderate lawmakers were wary of an extended shutdown fight. Most of the endangered Democrats who are up for re-election in 2018 in states that Trump won all voted to advance the measure, except for Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

Many Democrats worried the Republican talking point that Democrats were siding with “illegal immigrants” over the military and government would resonate with voters as the stalemate extended into the workweek.

President Trump tweeted that argument on Monday morning.

Trump has generally kept a low profile during the shutdown. He canceled a planned trip to Florida where he hoped to celebrate the first anniversary of his inauguration with a high-dollar fundraising party.

Aides say the president spent the weekend telephoning lawmakers and working with staff to minimize fallout from shuttered government operations.

“He is focused on managing the shutdown,” said press secretary Sarah Sanders. “That’s the biggest part of the process that he plays at this point. One is encouraging members to do the right thing and reopen our government. The other part is to manage the pieces. That’s his job as president of the United States.”

A group of about 20 senators met for several hours on Saturday and again on Sunday afternoon to hash out the plan that ultimately allowed both sides to back down from their increasingly entrenched positions, and vote to reopen the government.

Representatives from those talks briefed leaders Sunday afternoon, but the suspense dragged out for nearly six hours before McConnell made his announcement.

Several of the senators in the bipartisan group said they worried a prolonged shutdown could become harder to fix and cause greater damage to the country.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., joined the talks, and is one of several Democrats up for re-election in states where Trump won in 2016.

“One of the things we learned from the last shutdown was that, as time goes on, positions harden,” Heitkamp said. “Resolution gets more difficult the longer we wait.”

However, more liberal senators — including several potential 2020 hopefuls such as Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — all voted against the measure, standing firm over the DACA issue.

Two conservative GOP senators, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky, also voted no, though they have repeatedly opposed on principle any continuing resolutions as a way to keep the government funded.

The House still has to vote on the new legislation. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation that he would support a spending bill like the one being discussed in the Senate.

“[McConnell] is going to bring up a bill keeping things funded to Feb. 8,” Ryan said. “We have agreed that we would accept that in the House.”

One potential issue is that the deal to vote on immigration proposals applies only to the Senate. The House could choose to ignore whatever the Senate takes up.

NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley contributed to this report.

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