Tensions were high, however, in the run-up to the votes as it became clear the stalemate would continue. The normally even-keeled Democratic Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado lit into Senator Ted Cruz of Texas in a floor speech before the vote, recalling the conservative’s leading role in the last lengthy government shutdown, in 2013. “These crocodile tears that the senator from Texas is crying for first responders are too hard for me to take,” he said, referring to Cruz’s lamentation that Democrats objected to a bill that would pay the Coast Guard without ending the shutdown. “They’re too hard for me to take, because when the senator from Texas shut this government down in 2013, my state was flooded. It was under water! People were killed!”
“This,” he continued, “is a joke!”
Minutes before the vote, around two dozen House Democrats marched in silence across the Capitol and onto the Senate floor to make clear their frustration with McConnell’s handling of the shutdown. The group included both freshmen and more senior members, like Representatives John Lewis of Georgia and Barbara Lee of California, and Representative Nita Lowey of New York, the chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee.
The glass-half-full view of the Senate’s failed votes is that they could demonstrate to both parties that neither side’s current proposal is viable and that a fresh round of negotiations is needed. To that end, Pelosi acknowledged Thursday that Democrats are preparing a proposal that boosts spending on border security—reportedly by as much as the president’s requested $5.7 billion—but does not allocate funds for a wall. The plan would bolster technology along the border and beef up security at ports of entry, among other measures.
The speaker denied that the plan is “a counteroffer,” sticking to her insistence that Democrats won’t negotiate on border security until Trump agrees to reopen the government. Most of the money would be included in legislation that would fund the Department of Homeland Security for the remainder of 2019. The annual DHS appropriations bill was the only spending plan not agreed to in talks between Democrats and Republicans before the shutdown, and previous efforts to break the logjam had merely extended current funding levels for the department. So the Democratic proposal represents something of a shift, although it’s unlikely to be enough to win Trump or most Republicans over.
“If there’s no money for border barriers, that’s a nonstarter,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a close ally of McConnell.
Immediately after the vote, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, a Republican who voted with Trump and against the Democratic plan, called for “a third way” that sounded similar to the emerging Democratic proposal: “It would reopen government in the short term with the commitment to a border-security plan that can be enacted in the next few weeks,” he said in a statement, without providing details of his idea.
Exactly what it would take to end the deadlock—aside from a cave by either Trump or the Democrats—was unclear on Thursday as the Senate rejected first one proposal, and then the other. The only certainty was that the longest shutdown in U.S. history would continue at least one more day, and likely longer.