WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives passed legislation to fully fund the government Thursday evening, but it is heading nowhere, and Congress is bracing for a potentially long shutdown.
Nine federal departments and numerous agencies have been shut down since Dec. 22. An estimated 800,000 federal workers are affected. The House bills would fund the rest of the government through the end of September, except for the Department of Homeland Security, which would receive short-term funding until Feb. 8.
Both bills passed Thursday with the support of all Democrats and just a handful of Republicans (seven Republicans voted in favor of reopening most of the government through September, while five Republicans voted in favor of the DHS spending bill).
But it will do no good. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said he will not bring the bills forward for a vote in the Senate, despite senators unanimously agreeing to a similar plan last month. And President Donald Trump has said he will refuse to sign off on the House package because it does not include border wall funding. Trump has dug in on demanding $5 billion in wall funding be added to any spending bill.
That is a nonstarter for Democrats, who now control the House. Trump and congressional leaders will meet again on Friday, but a breakthrough does not seem imminent. Lawmakers first feared a shutdown that would last days. Then members of Congress started talking about it in terms of weeks. Now they openly speculate about it lasting months.
Senate Appropriations Committee chair Richard Shelby, whose committee is responsible for writing the bills that keep the government funded, predicted a deal is “months and months” away.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune attempted to convey optimism. “Eventually cooler heads are going to prevail, right?” he asked while boarding the Senate subway. Reporters stared back at him, and for a long, silent pause, neither side knew what to say until the subway doors finally slid shut.
Politicians have thrown out various proposals to end the shutdown, ranging from a short-term funding bill to passing major immigration reform in exchange for tens of billions of dollars in border security funding.
But while the House and Senate have been passing bills, the question remains of what Trump would agree to. Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat, said Thursday that a half dozen Republican senators have attempted to negotiate on behalf of the president, only for Trump to publicly denounce the deals they were supposedly advancing on his behalf.
“He is maddeningly difficult to negotiate with,” said Coons. “Negotiating back and forth with people who say they represent the president but aren’t able to get him to make a public commitment isn’t productive.”
Friday’s negotiation will be the first since Democrats formally took control of the House and Nancy Pelosi took over as speaker. Democrats are broadly opposed to Trump’s wall and argue Homeland Security already has enough funding appropriated for border security. The White House has alternately called for $1.6 billion and $5 billion in border wall funding this year, with Trump recently sticking to the $5 billion figure.
Congressional leaders and Trump had negotiated a funding deal without wall funding in December, but two days later Trump changed his position and rejected the agreement. A meeting between the sides Wednesday yielded no progress.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat who represents a district with many government workers, says the shutdown has been “profoundly stressful” for them. Some workers have been furloughed, while others have been deemed essential and must continue to work without receiving a paycheck. “We’re no longer talking about missing one pay period and then getting the money later. We’re talking about the possibility of missing multiple paychecks,” said Raskin.
In theory, Congress could pass this deal or any other without Trump. If he were to veto a funding deal, Congress could override the veto with a two-thirds vote in each chamber. But that would require significant Republican support, and given Trump’s sway in the party, an override is unlikely. Republicans have rallied around the president and argued that Democrats are being unreasonable in their opposition to the border wall.
“We need something that we can pass that the president will sign that has border security in it,” said Sen. John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican. When asked about a veto override, Hoeven said reaching a deal was more likely — it’s just that no one knows what that deal would look like.
Lissandra Villa contributed to this story.
Sen. Chris Coons is from Delaware. A previous story misidentified the state he represents due to an editing error.