US in Partial Shutdown Amid Finger-Pointing as Trump Marks Anniversary
Government funding ended at midnight Friday without a deal
Senate, House hold rare Saturday sessions to seek agreement
The U.S. government began a partial shutdown on Saturday as finger-pointing intensified on both sides and members of Congress explored whether there was any hope of bringing it to a quick end.The shutdown began a year to the day after Donald Trump was inaugurated, and the president was typically defiant. “This is the One Year Anniversary of my Presidency and the Democrats wanted to give me a nice present,” he wrote on Twitter.House members were told to be available for votes in case a spending agreement was reached in the Senate, which planned to begin its session at noon.“Despite controlling the House, the Senate and the White House, Republicans were so incompetent, so negligent, that they couldn’t get it together to keep government open,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said as the chamber gaveled in for a rare Saturday session.Late Friday night, as the clock ticked toward midnight, Senate Democrats and a handful of Republicans blocked a government funding bill after the two parties failed to break their deadlock over immigration.
Having stumbled into a shutdown few seemed to want, lawmakers in both parties seemed eager to keep it brief. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered a compromise that would re-open the government as soon as this weekend, with a new funding cutoff date of Feb. 8. But some Democrats said they wanted a shorter negotiating deadline.
Republican Senator John McCain, at home in Arizona fighting brain cancer, said in a statement, “The hard reality is that all of us share responsibility for this failure.” He urged both parties to “put politics aside, come to the table, and compromise.”
The White House and federal agencies spent Friday mapping out the government closure, with the goal of as little disruption as possible. Mail will continue to be delivered; airport control towers will be staffed; and the Interior Department hopes to keep the national parks open.
Financial markets have shrugged off days of shutdown drama in Washington. U.S. stocks rose to all-time highs after a report that regulators are close to further easing banking rules. All major equity indexes gained Friday and the benchmark S&P 500 rose 0.4 percent to a record close of 2,810.31.
The House had agreed earlier to fund the government through Feb. 16, but the bill was blocked in the Senate Friday night, despite leaving the vote open for a full two hours, in the face of mostly unified Democratic opposition. Four Republican Senators — Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah — voted against moving forward with House bill, though for different reasons.
“What we’ve just witnessed on the floor was a cynical decision by Senate Democrats to shove aside millions of Americans for the sake of irresponsible political games,” McConnell said after the voting was finished.
Graham urged senators in a statement Saturday morning to agree to McConnell’s three-week funding proposal in return for a commitment for a Senate debate on immigration, with an “open” amendment process, starting on Feb. 8. He said that “is the key to ending the government shutdown and finding resolution on all the outstanding issues.”
‘Don’t Give In’
“No,” said Republican Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, to the open amendment idea discussed by Graham. “Because you don’t give in to extortion,” Brooks said.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had said in a statement Friday night that the administration “will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands.”
Democrats want legislation to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, and Republicans are setting conditions for border security and enforcement.
Schumer said after the vote that when he met with Trump at the White House earlier Friday, “I reluctantly put the border wall on the table for discussion.” He said they appeared to have reached the “outline of a deal” on issues including immigration and health care. Instead, he said, Trump folded when he got pushback from Republicans.
“He backed off at the first sign of pressure,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney predicted Republicans and Democrats would strike an agreement before the weekend was out to provide temporary funding for the government that would let federal agencies open on schedule Monday.
“I think there’s a deal in the next 24 hours,” Mulvaney said on CNN.
If there’s not, both sides were ready to place blame.
Schumer blamed the standoff on Trump’s inability to set a clear path and the failure of Republican congressional leaders to deliver on immigration. He said the president is the “single driving force in scuttling bipartisan deals in Congress.”
Members of Trump’s administration, including Chief of Staff John Kelly and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, have been shuttling between meetings at the Capitol where members of both parties have been working on a getting a deal.
Democrats have demanded that Congress act now to protect the young undocumented immigrants who are shielded under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which Trump plans to end on March 5. Republicans want to pair that issue with stronger border security and restrictions on other immigration programs.
The House earlier voted 230-197 largely along party lines to pass a bill that would have continued government financing at current levels until Feb. 16. It included a six-year extension of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and a delay in implementation of three taxes imposed by the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.