The Senate is (finally!) poised to vote on a pair of bills on Thursday to fully fund the government. The bad news is that both plans are almost certain to fail. But the silver lining, some lawmakers hope, is that the failures could potentially force both parties to work more seriously to find a real solution.
The dueling pieces of legislation to end the partial government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history, come up for a vote in the mid-afternoon. The Republican plan would extend government funding while giving President Trump his long-demanded $5.7 billion for a border wall. The Democratic plan would simply fund the government for two weeks through Feb. 8, giving both sides a chance to negotiate over a longer-term plan.
Neither bill is going to come close to the 60 votes it needs to pass, as senators are largely expected to vote along party lines, and President Trump has made clear he wouldn’t accept the Democratic plan even if it did clear the Senate.
Two main questions hang over the votes: Who will defect? And what happens next? The answer to the first question may help answer the second.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) declared that he plans to back both plans, making him the first lawmaker from either side to publicly defect. Yet it’s unclear how many other Republicans will go along with him and buck Trump. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are viewed as likely defectors. If it’s just them, that doesn’t change much of the calculus on the GOP side. But if other Republicans decide to vote for both plans — say, Sens. Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Thom Tillis (R-NC), who are facing tough 2020 election fights — that could alter the dynamics of the shutdown fight.
A few Democrats could defect as well. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has remained publicly open to backing the GOP bill, and Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), who’s facing an uphill fight for reelection, might as well. It’s also unclear what freshman Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) will do. Sinema carved an independent path in the House, and this will be her first big Senate vote.
If there are few defections on either side, the most likely outcome, it will at least show that neither side has the votes right now to reopen government with their own plan. That could prompt Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to more seriously engage with the shutdown process — something he’s so far left to Trump and the Democrats. The Senate is typically where resolutions have occurred for past major shutdowns, and if McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) can hammer out an agreement that can pass, that may prove to be a breakthrough.
It may not matter, however. Trump remains dug in on a refusal to consider anything short of border wall funding, and that’s the one thing Democratic leaders in both chambers of Congress have made clear they won’t give him. So far, there have been very few Republicans willing to cross Trump, even as they grow privately more panicked by the shutdown’s growing economic impact and their president’s sinking poll numbers.
But after weeks of zero real action in the Senate, at least senators are being put on record on what they will and won’t support at this time. Whether that will lead to a breakthrough, or whether it’s the just the latest round of shadowboxing in a fight that’s nowhere near its conclusion, remains an open question.