A splintered Senate voted down competing Democratic and Republican plans for ending the 35-day partial government shutdown, but the twin setbacks prompted a burst of bipartisan talks aimed at temporarily halting the longest-ever closure of federal agencies and the damage it’s inflicting around the country.
In the first serious exchange in weeks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., quickly called Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to his office Thursday to explore potential next steps for solving the vitriolic stalemate. Senators from both sides floated a plan to reopen agencies for three weeks and pay hundreds of thousands of beleaguered federal workers while bargainers hunt for a deal.
At the White House, President Donald Trump told reporters he’d support “a reasonable agreement.” He suggested he’d also want a “prorated down payment” for his long-sought border wall with Mexico but didn’t describe the term. He said he has “other alternatives” for getting wall funding, an apparent reference to his disputed claim that he could declare a national emergency and fund the wall’s construction using other programs in the federal budget.
“At least we’re talking about it. That’s better than it was before,” McConnell told reporters in one of the most encouraging statements heard since the shutdown began Dec. 22.
Even so, it was unclear whether the flurry would produce results.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., whose relationship with Trump seems to sour daily, told reporters a “big” down payment would not be “a reasonable agreement.” Asked if she knew how much money Trump meant, Pelosi said, “I don’t know if he knows what he’s talking about.”
Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman said Democrats have made clear “that they will not support funding for the wall, prorated or otherwise.”
Contributing to the pressure on lawmakers to find a solution was the harsh reality confronting 800,000 federal workers, who on Friday face a second two-week payday with no paychecks.
Underscoring the strains, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., angrily said on the Senate floor that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had forced a 2013 shutdown during which “people were killed” in Colorado from flooding and shuttered federal agencies couldn’t help local emergency workers. Moments earlier, Cruz accused Democrats of blocking a separate, doomed bill to pay Coast Guard personnel during this shutdown to score political points, adding later, “Just because you hate somebody doesn’t mean you should shut the government down.”