The Shutdown Will Go On

The federal government won’t reopen on Monday, with Democrats rejecting an offer from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday night. But an agreement might not be far off.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

The federal government will not reopen on Monday morning. On Sunday night, Democratic leaders rejected an offer from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to consider immigration legislation in the next three weeks if they agreed to end the shutdown.

A large bipartisan group representing more than one-fifth of the Senate had been working throughout the weekend to resolve, at least temporarily, the stalemate that shut down the government on Saturday. Their goal was to nip the shutdown in the bud, avoiding the need to furlough hundreds of thousands of federal workers on Monday morning.

But shortly after 9 p.m. EST, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer rebuffed McConnell’s attempt to vote on a bill that would have restored federal funding for three weeks and kept the government open while party leaders negotiated a much broader agreement encompassing the budget, disaster aid, children’s health care, and most delicately, the fate of nearly 700,000 young immigrants whose protections from deportation are set to end in early March. “Talks will continue,”  Schumer said, “but we have yet to reach an agreement on a path forward that would be acceptable to both sides.”

Instead, the Senate is set to hold its next key vote Monday at noon. The question now is whether the two parties and the White House can strike a deal by then, or if not, whether a handful of Democrats will break with their party and accept McConnell’s offer to reopen the government. Moments after McConnell made his offer, Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona announced he would support his proposal for a three-week continuing resolution. Late Friday night, Flake had voted with Democrats to block a four-week stopgap spending measure and shutter the government.

Despite the spin offered by both parties, the tenor of the talks throughout the weekend seemed to reflect a stronger hand for Republicans in the impasse. Democrats had been demanding an agreement to grant permanent legal protections for the young immigrants known as Dreamers who would be jeopardized by President Trump’s decision to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. In the final hours before the shutdown, Schumer let it be known that he had substantially increased the Democrats’ offer in a meeting with Trump, agreeing to support the president’s full request for $20 billion to construct his promised Southern border wall. But Trump rejected the deal, and once the shutdown began, the White House said it would refuse to negotiate on immigration until Democrats agreed to help reopen the government.

McConnell’s offer doesn’t give much to Democrats. While he’s promising to bring up an immigration bill by February 8 if a broader deal isn’t reached before then, the majority leader isn’t offering commitments as to what that bill would look like. Nor did McConnell give any assurances that the proposal would actually pass the Senate. And because Speaker Paul Ryan has refused to bind House Republicans to any agreements the Senate might reach, McConnell can’t guarantee that even if the Senate passed an immigration bill favorable to Democrats, it would be signed into law by Trump.

Yet Democrats might not be able to get much more than those vague assurances. The large bipartisan group of senators trying to negotiate an agreement and sell it to their leadership served as a sign both to Schumer and McConnell that while the extremes of each party might be dug in, many rank-and-file members were itching to end the shutdown as soon as it began. And those talks were focused not on the particulars of an immigration deal Democrats sought.

“There is no way we’re going to open the government and solve immigration at the same time. I think the first thing we need to do is open the government,” Graham told reporters. The South Carolina Republican, who voted with Democrats on Friday, had been leading the talks and shuttling between offices in the Capitol throughout the weekend. “If it doesn’t happen tonight, it’s going to get a lot harder tomorrow,” Graham said.

Beyond the Senate offices where negotiations were taking place, Republicans and Democrats were engaged in a familiar blame game. The White House and congressional Republicans tried to tag Schumer as the architect of the shutdown, while Democrats faulted Trump’s refusal to “take yes for an answer.” The president largely laid low except for the occasional tweet. In a Sunday morning post, he called on Senate Republicans to abolish the legislative filibuster, reopen the government, and enact a long-term budget with just 51 votes. McConnell’s office swiftly nixed the idea, as it has on multiple occasions in the last year.

By late in the afternoon, there was briefly hope that a deal might be reached to confine the shutdown to the weekend. The Democrats’ rejection of McConnell’s offer guaranteed it would extend into Monday, but amid signs that the Senate’s patience was already fraying, it might not last much longer than that.