Donald Trump and Senate leaders are in active talks to reopen the government on a temporary basis after Trump’s border wall plan failed in the Senate Thursday.
The Senate tried and failed to pass two bills to reopen the government, including Trump’s bill that included $5.7 billion for a southern border wall. The vote sends the message that Trump’s plan cannot pass the Republican-controlled Senate or the Democrat-controlled House.
After the votes, a group of 16 senators, evenly split between both parties, went on the Senate floor calling for a short-term deal to open the government. Sen. Lindsey Graham then said that he spoke to the president, and Trump is agreeable to a short-term spending bill with certain additions, which Graham did not outline.
In a tweet soon after, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “are meeting now to see whether or not they can work out of the deadlock. As was made clear to Senator Lindsey Graham, the 3 week CR would only work if there is a large down payment on the wall.”
Senate leaders of both parties met for about a half hour after the vote. Leaving the meeting, Schumer repeatedly told reporters “we’re talking.”
Both bills voted on Thursday were doomed in advance to fail, but Congress has been under pressure to try something, anything, to end the partial shutdown affecting 800,000 federal workers. Trump’s plan fell well short of the 60-vote threshold needed to proceed, with a vote of 50–47. One Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, voted for the bill.
A Democratic proposal to open the government for just three weeks while negotiations continued also fell well short in a vote of 52–44. Six Republicans voted for the bill — Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Cory Gardner, Johnny Isakson, Lamar Alexander, and Mitt Romney.
As with much of the recent action in Washington, Thursday’s votes were an exercise in shifting blame. Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats have passed around a dozen bills to reopen the government this month. They’ve been blasting McConnell for not putting any of them up for a vote. McConnell has said he will only vote on bills that Trump would sign into law.
Trump is facing daunting polls that show a majority of Americans hold him responsible for the shutdown. And after blinking in a stare-down with Pelosi, he cannot make his case in a State of the Union address until the shutdown is resolved. But Thursday’s votes show that Republicans are still willing to stand behind the president, saving him from the awkward act of vetoing a bill to reopen the government without wall funding.
Republicans have so far avoided even whispering about the possibility of using a congressional override of Trump’s veto, which would require two-thirds support in both chambers of Congress.
Meanwhile, as of Friday, 800,000 federal workers across nine federal departments and government agencies will have gone two and a half pay periods since the shutdown began in December. It is far and away the longest shutdown in US history.
On Thursday morning, both Democratic senators from Virginia, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, held a press conference at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, highlighting the suffering of federal employees in the air traffic field.
The airport employee representatives alongside them emphasized the layer of security missing in the air traffic network, saying that workers were distracted from the technical safety aspects of their job with worries of their own financial stability.
Kaine compared the line outside of a restaurant where he has recently volunteered to hand out meals to federal employees to Depression-era food lines.
Warner spoke of one air traffic controller he had talked to who had sent their child away to a relative for the time being because they weren’t able to afford child care without their pay.
Lissandra Villa contributed reporting to this story.