At 1:53 a.m., the Senate at last voted and passed the bill, 71 votes to 28. And after a tense standoff with House Democrats, at 5:30 a.m., Republican leadership claimed victory in the lower chamber, passing the deal and reopening the government, 240 votes to 186. Seventy-three Democrats broke from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to vote in favor. President Trump signed the bill on Friday morning, ending the government shutdown.
In the end, both parties were forced to wrestle with their own respective fallouts: Democrats, on the directionless nature of their leadership, as yet another shutdown fight yielded no tangible victories. And Republicans, on whether their longtime message of fiscal prudence had become a permanent relic of the past.
The day’s tumult began when Paul, a libertarian who’s often been a thorn in the Republican leadership’s side, torpedoed the unanimous-consent vote needed to invoke cloture and speed up a final vote in the Senate. He was adamant that he would not endorse leadership’s plans to avert a shutdown by midnight unless the floor was open for him to introduce his amendment for a vote, which would set strict budget caps and slash the bill’s debt-ceiling measure. McConnell wouldn’t budge, arguing that opening the floor to Paul’s amendment would open the floodgates for others.
So at 6 p.m., McConnell called for a vote, and Paul objected—shutdown be damned.
For over an hour, Paul railed against Republicans for their hypocrisy on spending and deficits. The tea-party wave of support that swept large Republican majorities into office in 2010, he argued, premised on a conservative message of spending reforms and deficit slashing—a response, in many ways, to the big-spending years of the Bush era—had crashed. His colleagues grimaced and griped about Paul’s pageantry; Paul was, indeed, all but ensuring a government shutdown for little reason other than his desire to make a few points. Yet it’s likely that, were it a Democrat and not Donald Trump in the White House, Republicans would be cheering his words. As Alabama Representative Mo Brooks put it to reporters yesterday, “Quite frankly, I’m astonished that the Republican Party seems to be the party of big government in this day and age.”
Paul could only delay the proceedings until noon on Friday at the latest, although Senate leaders predicted—more accurately, hoped—it wouldn’t come to that. The Senate was able to vote near 2 a.m. on Friday morning, with the House following suit just a few hours later.
Yet the bill didn’t sail through the House as Republican leadership predicted. Sure, Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry and his team knew they’d have to rely on Democrats in the end, but they predicted around 70 would do the trick—not necessarily an impossible lift. As the seconds ticked by during the 15-minute vote, however, it was a clear a stand-off of sorts was taking shape: Democrats stood tall, their eyes locked on the voting board, refusing to budge with a vote either way until the clock ticked down to 0:00. The GOP whip team looked jittery. And then, with Pelosi looking sullen, the floodgates opened, and a total of 73 Democrats voted “yea” nearly in unison—despite the fact that, in the end, they’d won no concessions from Republicans, not even a promise from Ryan to hold an open vote on immigration legislation. As with the last shutdown, observers struggled to rationalize just what Democrats had gained.