A Senate standoff that partially shuttered the federal government for nearly three days ended Monday when Senate Democrats agreed to support a bill to re-open the federal government through Feb. 8.
Sen. Sherrod Brown joined 31 Democrats and independent Angus King of Maine in backing the spending bill, which they did under the condition that the GOP permit debate on a bill to provide protection for the children of undocumented immigrants, a program known as the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, or DACA.
The final vote to move forward was 81-18. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, also backed the measure. The House passed the bill later Monday on a 266-150 vote.
President Donald Trump signed the bill just before 9 p.m. Monday.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D–N.Y., announced the breakthrough on the Senate floor shortly before a scheduled vote on a bill to keep the government open 17 days. The bill would also extend for six years a popular program that provides billions of federal dollars to the states to pay for the health care costs of low-income children.
"We expect that a bipartisan bill on DACA will receive fair consideration and an up–or–down vote on the floor," Schumer said.
Earlier Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R–Ky., pledged to have the Senate will take up immigration after the government re-opens. In a floor speech Monday morning, McConnell promised “an amendment process that is fair to all sides.”
“This immigration debate will have a level playing field at the outset,” McConnell said.
Said President Trump in a statement: "I am pleased that Democrats in Congress have come to their senses and are now willing to fund our great military, border patrol, first responders, and insurance for vulnerable children."
In a separate e-mail to supporters, he exulted: "Democrats CAVED — because of you ... We can’t let them get away with it. We will never forget the names of EVERY single liberal obstructionist responsible for this disgusting shut down, and we will work to FIRE them come November."
However, even if the Senate does ultimately vote on a bill on DACA, it's unclear whether the House will follow suit.
Not a big impact in D.C.
Still, the spending agreement cut off what had been an inconvenient but not overly disruptive morning on Capitol Hill — the first regular work day since the government closed at midnight Friday. While some Capitol staff had been furloughed because of the partial shutdown, Brown and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, kept their staffs at full capacity.
Some of the Capitol’s restaurants and entrances were closed. A popular coffee place in a Senate office building couldn’t serve sandwiches after 1:30; it had run out of bread because of the flood of customers. Some federal workers who had driven into D.C. Monday morning to get furlough notices returned home only to find that the government was to reopen. In all, it was anticlimactic.
But Republicans and Democrats seemed to disagree on the takeaway. Brown and others said they were hopeful that the agreement would be the beginning of a new era of bipartisan compromise. Republicans, meanwhile, argued that Democrats learned the hard way what congressional Republicans learned in 1995 and 2013: that it is difficult to prevail in a partial shutdown against a White House that will not budge.
Great to see how hard Republicans are fighting for our Military and Safety at the Border. The Dems just want illegal immigrants to pour into our nation unchecked. If stalemate continues, Republicans should go to 51% (Nuclear Option) and vote on real, long term budget, no C.R.’s!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 21, 2018
In 2013, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, demanded that the price for keeping the federal government open was for President Barack Obama to scrap his signature 2010 health-care law known as Obamacare. Obama held firm and the congressional Republicans collapsed in acrimony. Republicans including House Speaker Paul Ryan later acknowledged that the plan had not worked.
“I think if we’ve learned anything during this process it’s that a strategy to shut down the government over the issue of illegal immigration is something that the American people didn’t understand and wouldn’t have understood in the future,” McConnell said.
Portman echoed those comments. “It was wrong of Democrats to vote against continuing the operations of the government for something unrelated,” he said.
But Democrats including Brown seemed heartened that the agreement would mean not only fewer short-term spending bills, but possible compromises on pensions and other issues.
Their optimism appeared to carry to the Senate floor, where Republicans and Democrats chatted amiably with one another before the vote.
An unusual scenario
Sen. Dick Durbin, D–Ill., said the dialogue over the weekend was something he’d not seen in years: “constructive bipartisan conversation and dialogue on the floor.”
Brown, meanwhile, said senators had “better conversations than we’ve seen in a long time, more substantive and more sort of directed.”
He said he had voted against the spending bill that failed, shutting down the government, largely because of his frustration with the temporary, month-to-month spending measures.
“You can’t run a government like that,” he said, saying the agreement reached Monday “fundamentally changes it.” If Republicans keep their part of the agreement and allow a debate on DACA, he said, it will be the first time they have allowed a Democratic amendment on the Senate floor since Trump has been president.
Although most analysts do not believe a brief shutdown will have any meaningful impact on the November elections, Senate Democrats such as Brown and Bob Casey in Pennsylvania were among those under intense pressure to keep the government open, with the National Republican Senatorial Committee airing ads online against they and other Democrats in states that Trump won in 2016.
Privately, Republicans in a closed door meeting after the vote wondered if they would need to end a rule that requires 60 votes to pass a spending bill in order to prevent further shutdowns.
If there was any agreement, it was this: Republicans and Democrats would have to rely on one another in order to forge compromise; they’d have to leave Trump out of it.