Shutdown, Day 3: Senate Plans Midday Vote Amid Active Negotiations
Updated at 8:30 a.m. ET.
The partial shutdown of the federal government has stretched into a third day, as discussions continue on a funding and immigration plan.
Lawmakers said Sunday they made progress on a potential agreement to end the shutdown, but did not reach a final deal. Senate leaders scheduled a procedural vote for noon on Monday on a bill to reopen the government and extend funding through Feb. 8.
The emerging proposal would also extend the expired Children's Health Insurance Program for six years in exchange for a commitment from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to hold votes 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.
McConnell took to the Senate floor late on Sunday evening to urge senators to reach an agreement before the upcoming vote.
"Let's step back from the brink," McConnell said. "Let's stop victimizing the American people and get back to work on their behalf."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., did not commit to supporting the plan, but he did agree to set the Monday vote.
"I am happy to continue my discussion with the majority leader about reopening the government," Schumer said. "Talks will continue, but we have yet to reach an agreement on a path forward that would be acceptable to both sides."
It is still unclear what the agreement includes. McConnell announced that it is his intention to resolve the DACA issue "as quickly as possible."
"However, should these issues not be resolved by the time the funding bill before us expires on Feb. 8, 2018, assuming that the government remains open, it would be my intention to proceed to legislation that would address DACA, border security, and related issues," McConnell said in his floor speech. "It is also my intention to take up legislation regarding increased defense funding, disaster relief, and other important matters."
If the measure does pass the Senate on Monday, it will 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. Graham and Durbin offered him a bipartisan deal [on immigration]."
While many Senate Democrats remain entrenched in their opposition to any funding deal that doesn't include a DACA fix, a growing number of moderate lawmakers are wary of an extended shutdown fight.
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.
So a group of moderate Democrats were eager to meet with Republican counterparts over the weekend to try to reach some sort of an agreement.
A group of about 20 senators met for several hours on Saturday and again on Sunday afternoon to hash out a plan that would allow both sides to back down from their increasingly entrenched positions, and vote to reopen the government.
Representatives from those talks briefed leaders in the 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."
McConnell's promise to address DACA in February might not be much, but it may be just enough to win the Democratic support needed to end the shutdown.
"The progress, although it may seem small to you, the progress that happened last night was for leader McConnell to stop saying that dealing with DACA and border security is a side issue," said Coons. "So at least saying we will proceed to it by Feb. 8 if we haven't resolved it by then."
While Coons was among the bipartisan group of negotiators, he hasn't yet committed to voting for the three-week funding measure. "It depends on what final agreement is reached between our leaders," he said.
But even if the measure does pass the Senate, it would not immediately end the shutdown. The House will have to come back into session 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."
Republicans said late Sunday that they were more confident about prospects for ending the shutdown than they were earlier in the day. Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters that he believed Schumer wanted to give his fellow Democrats time to understand what the new agreement entails.
"The minority wants to just give everyone a chance to chew on it and sort of understand it, and that's why he didn't want to have the vote tonight," Cornyn said on Sunday. "On balance, it's better to have a successful vote tomorrow at noon than it is to have a failed vote tonight."
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.