Senate Fails to End Government Shutdown, Plans Procedural Vote

By FeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Lawmakers failed Sunday to end the federal government shutdown, which will stretch into a third day Monday as negotiations over immigration continued to roil Capitol Hill.

The Senate was expected to hold a procedural vote at noon Monday on a measure that would keep the government funded through Feb. 8, but it wasn't clear if it would have enough support to advance.

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A group of centrist senators from both parties had huddled Sunday in an attempt to chart a way out of the stalemate, fearing that it would harden as the shutdown's effects expanded once the workweek began, including potential furloughs for tens of thousands of federal employees.

That group didn't produce a clear-cut breakthrough Sunday night. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) came to the chamber's floor Sunday night to express his willingness to consider immigration legislation in early February if a deal hadn't already been reached.

"Should these issues not be resolved by the time the funding bill before us expires on February 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," Mr. McConnell said on the floor.

Democrats, who control enough votes in the Senate to block legislation funding the government, have attempted to use their leverage to force an agreement to shield young illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, known as the Dreamers. Their legal protections expire March 5 under President Donald Trump's decision to end a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) indicated that Mr. McConnell's comments weren't a sufficient reason for him to drop his opposition to the spending bill.

"We have yet to reach an agreement on the path forward that would be acceptable to both sides," Mr. Schumer said. It wasn't clear whether enough centrist Senate Democrats might defect to advance the spending bill, which needs 60 votes to clear a procedural hurdle.

The GOP has been pushing to reopen the government with a three-week spending bill, but Democrats haven't agreed to that without a path forward for the Dreamers. Mr. Schumer said he made significant concessions to Mr. Trump, including offering funding to build a wall along the border with Mexico, but the president rejected it.

"The president must take yes for an answer," Mr. Schumer said on the Senate floor, urging Republicans to find a compromise with Democrats. "A party that controls the House, the Senate and the presidency would rather sit back and point fingers of blame than roll up their sleeves and govern."

The White House disputed Mr. Schumer's account.

"Sen. Schumer's memory is hazy because his account of Friday's meeting is false," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Sunday. "And the president's position is clear: We will not negotiate on the status of unlawful immigrants while Sen. Schumer and the Democrats hold the government for millions of Americans and our troops hostage."

On Sunday, much of the Senate activity centered on the bipartisan group of senators working to come up with a compromise. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said Mr. McConnell had made clear that immigration would be among the issues they would consider when the government is reopened. But Mr. Graham said he was hoping to get a pledge from Mr. McConnell that he would bring an immigration bill to the Senate floor in early February, if it hasn't already been resolved.

"I think that would be enough for a lot of people," Mr. Graham told reporters.

Mr. McConnell had previously said he would bring up immigration legislation only if it had Mr. Trump's support. But GOP senators said Saturday he had told them he would be willing to bring up an immigration bill even without Mr. Trump's endorsement.

Mr. Trump hasn't endorsed any specific legislation on the Dreamers, complicating a debate that was difficult even before his presidency.

Mr. McConnell threatened to hold the next procedural vote on the three-week spending bill at 1 a.m. Monday, but lawmakers could reach a unanimous agreement to hold it earlier, or at a later hour Monday.

Meanwhile, Mr. Trump spoke with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) and Mr. Cornyn, Ms. Sanders said. If the Senate passes the three-week spending bill, it is expected to clear the House, lawmakers said.

Mr. Trump tweeted on Sunday morning his support for the Republicans' position and suggested the Senate change its rules if they can't reach an agreement with Democrats.

"Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border. The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked," Mr. Trump said in a tweet early Sunday. "If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51% (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long term budget, no C.R.'s!" he said, referring to a continuing resolution, a stopgap spending bill.

Spending bills need 60 votes to clear procedural hurdles in the Senate, where Republicans hold 51 seats. Mr. Trump urged Republicans to change the chamber's rules so that spending bills could pass with just a simple majority.

But Senate Republicans have resisted that idea in the past, not wanting to eliminate the minority party's most important source of leverage. A spokesman for Mr. McConnell said Sunday morning that hadn't changed.

Mr. McConnell himself said Sunday he supported the current rules.

"I support that right from an institutional point of view, but the question is when do you use it," he said.

Although the Senate has changed its rules to approve nominees with just a simple majority, most senators believe lowering the threshold for legislation would erase what distinguishes the Senate from the House, a dynamic that has long forced senators to try to reach bipartisan compromises.

--Michael C. Bender, Kate Davidson, Bob Davis and Peter Nicholas contributed to this article.

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com, Natalie Andrews at Natalie.Andrews@wsj.com and Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 21, 2018 22:38 ET (03:38 GMT)

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