WASHINGTON — The Senate will go ahead Thursday with two votes on competing government spending measures to end the shutdown. Both are expected to fail.
One is a GOP measure based on President Trump’s last offer: $5.7 billion for the wall in exchange for protecting some immigrants. The other is the Democrats’ counter: $5.7 billion for border security without a cent for border wall funding, plus a promise to take up comprehensive immigration reform after the government reopens.
“It has zero for new fencing, so it’s a nonstarter,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said of the Democrats’ bill, right before entering the House chamber to cast a vote on Wednesday. “Let’s face it: That message has been consistent for 33 days, and it’s not going to change just because you throw a little bit more money at it.”
The only glimmer of hope for the hundreds of thousands of Americans directly or indirectly impacted by the extended partial shutdown is that some sort of deal could emerge after the failure of those measures. It’s a symbol of the deep pessimism in Washington that simply having two measures for the Senate to vote on counts as a bright spot.
“It’s progress — how much progress is TBD,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who forced the Senate to stay in session over the weekend even though most senators were far away from the nation’s capital, told VICE News at the Capitol Wednesday.
“It was kind of an insult”
The bitterness among many politicians is now palpable after Democratic leaders rejected Trump’s offer over the MLK holiday weekend to throw a temporary, three-year life raft to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (or DACA) recipients into the mix.
“The public wants us to compromise, and the president has shown a willingness to compromise,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a key Trump ally, told VICE News as he headed to a car waiting outside the Capitol. “When the Democrats reject it out of hand, then they run the risk of being seen as the party that rejects the idea of compromise. They’re playing with fire here. They’re about to own the shutdown.”
Some Republicans argue the president’s offer was genuine because he got blowback from the far-right portion of his base, some of whom accused him of supporting amnesty for DACA recipients (even if his new plan included no long-term pathway to citizenship).
“Mr. Trump made a heartfelt offer – an offer that cost him, hurt him with his base,” Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) told VICE News while walking in a tunnel to the Capitol Tuesday evening. “And before he even went to the podium, the microphones, Ms. Pelosi said, ‘Dead on arrival.’ That is not taking the situation seriously.”
So while Democrats brushed aside the latest offer, Olson contends they don’t understand the “political courage” it took for Trump to put that offer on the table.
“A lot of our base thinks this DACA thing is amnesty.”
“I don’t agree with it, but a lot of our base thinks this DACA thing is amnesty,” Olson said. “And for him to take that step out there and say, ‘Listen, I’ll take bullets from part of my base to get this open, to get this partial shutdown done,’ was huge. It took political courage.”
That argument is lost on most Democrats who see the uncertainty hanging over DACA recipients as purely a crisis of Trump’s own making — after all, he’s the one who rescinded the Obama-era executive order that protected them. Then he shut down the government rather than sign a continuing resolution passed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). So for some Democrats, it's patently offensive for Trump to put DACA in the mix after he tried to kill the program outright.
“It was kind of an insult in a lot of ways,” Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) told VICE News at the Capitol. “What’s more frustrating is that much more serious members of the House and the Senate have deluded themselves into believing it is a serious offer, and then Mitch McConnell is putting it on the floor as if it is. That’s kind of making a mockery of the process, I think.”
Now real negotiations start?
Still, there’s a possibility that something workable can be salvaged from the burnt embers of these bills.
“There’s some speculation that maybe McConnell needs to go through this failure in order to justify taking another tack,” Kildee said. “If that’s the case, fine. I’m all for that.”
The Democrats’ proposal provides cash for new technologies along the border, hiring more border agents, and even money for repairing existing portions of the barriers along the southern border, but no money for new portions of wall.
“Putting forward a concrete plan makes it clear that we’re quite serious about addressing border security issues,” Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) told VICE News at the Capitol. “The bottom line here is what is going to work best when it comes to border security.”
“Democrats are just not going to allow Trump to use a government shutdown as a negotiating tactic to get his wall.”
The new offer from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team is already being laughed off by Trump’s far-right brain trust at the Capitol, but Democrats insist Trump won’t get a dime for wall funding while large swaths of the government remain closed.
“Democrats are just not going to allow Trump to use a government shutdown as a negotiating tactic to get his wall,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) told VICE News after leaving a closed-door meeting with his fellow Democrats in the Capitol on Wednesday. “That simply will not happen.”
With party leaders in Washington still at loggerheads, rank-and-file lawmakers in both parties are feeling the heat from constituents. One Republican congressman, Rodney Davis of Illinois, was confronted on a plane for riding first class as some of his constituents work without pay.
“The external pressure is getting really intense,” Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) told VICE News at the Capitol.
Most lawmakers are still expected to vote with their party leaders this week, especially in the Senate. And even if the bill Democrats are pushing overcomes a GOP filibuster (which is a long shot, for now) it’s unlikely to come close to overcoming the two-thirds vote needed to override a presidential veto. And Trump isn’t on board, so it seems both bills will fail or are destined for eventual failure.
“If both votes fail, there’s going to be a lot of despair,” Sen. Kaine of Virginia told VICE News. “Because I don’t know that anybody knows what the next step is beyond that.”
Cover: U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks to members of the press about U.S. President Donald Trump and the State of the Union speech while she returns to the U.S. Capitol on January 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)