Shutdown Threat Looms: Senate Dems Stiffen Spines, House In Chaos

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 17:  Speaker of House Paul Ryan attends a press conference on capital hill on January 17, 2018 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
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This story was updated at 4:15 p.m to include new developments in the House. Alice Ollstein contributed.

The threat of a government shutdown seems to be growing by the minute — and Republicans are bracing to get blamed if it happens.

A raft of Senate Democrats announced Thursday they won’t back a one-month extension of government spending. Meanwhile, Speaker Paul Ryan’s promise that he can pass the plan in his chamber looks increasingly uncertain.

The GOP plan to push through a one-month continuing resolution for government funding paired with a six-year extension of funds for the Children’s Health Insurance Program was met with hostility from a number of Senate Democrats who’d voted for the last continuing resolution. As Thursday wore on, the math in the Senate looked increasingly tough for those aiming to keep the government running.

“It’s one more instance in which the American people look at Congress and say ‘Why can’t these people get something done?” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) told TPM. “With Republicans in the majority, that’s a knock on us. … The reality is the Republicans have the majority in the House and Senate, and the White House.”

Sen. John Thune (R-SD), a member of GOP leadership, admitted the numbers don’t look good.

“I’m concerned that we, yeah, we may not have 60 votes in the Senate,” he told Politico. “And I think that’s obviously problematic.”

Because of GOP defections and health-related absences, at least 14 Democrats will likely need to back the plan for it to pass. But of the 18 Democrats who backed the last continuing resolution in December, a growing number said they almost certainly would not vote for the new bill unless President Trump supported a bipartisan plan to provide protections from deportation for undocumented immigrants brought here as children. Trump last year ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program last year, calling the status of those undocumented immigrants into doubt.

That group included Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

“Republican leadership – led by President Trump – has brought us to the brink of a government shutdown.  The House bill does not have my support.  It leaves too much undone, and it is woefully inadequate,” Leahy said in a statement.

“They want to give us another punt for a month? It makes no sense,” Kaine told TPM.

Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Jon Tester (D-MT) also voiced serious concerns with the plan while leaving the door open a crack to change their minds.

“I’d be leaning no on that baby,” Carper told TPM with a laugh after sarcastically describing himself as a “cosponsor” of the bill.

Tester said the short-term bill is “not what we’re looking for.”

Republicans need 60 votes to pass the plan in the Senate, and with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) out due to cancer treatments they have only 50 viable votes (Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) has been in and out with health problems too, and it’s not clear if he’s around as a needed vote either).

Several Republicans are defecting. Sens. Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Rand Paul (R-KY) joined Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in promising to vote against the latest plan on Thursday, and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) voted against the last continuing resolution, a sign he’d do so again.

Other Democrats facing potentially tough reelections weren’t as eager to discuss the bill. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) told TPM he wouldn’t take a position unless the House passes it, and Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) said “call my office” when asked what his position was. But Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was the only Democrat TPM talked to who said he’d definitely support it, and it doesn’t appear there are enough Democrats that might waver to get the bill through the Senate.

House leaders projected more confidence. Ryan said late Thursday morning that he’d be able to get the votes.

I feel we’re making really good progress with our members,” he said. “Our members are understanding the gravitas for the situation.”

But almost no House Democrats seem ready to help Ryan out — including the 14 who voted for the last continuing resolution, many of whom told TPM they would not back the bill. And members of the hardline conservative Freedom Caucus indicated Thursday afternoon that they weren’t ready to get onboard, while saying the GOP is still short on votes.

“It’s still our belief that there’s not the votes to pass it with Republicans only,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) told reporters Thursday afternoon. “I promise you, he doesn’t have the votes.”

That raises the chances it might fail on the House floor ahead of a scheduled Thursday night vote.

The government will shut down at midnight Friday night if Congress can’t pass a bill, less than 36 hours from the time this story was published.

 

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