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Government shut down ahead as Congress fails to reach deal

December 22, 2018

WASHINGTON — In the end, they hit a wall.

After weeks of political posturing and legislative maneuvering, President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders failed late Friday night to reach agreement on border wall funding, upending a stopgap spending bill to keep a half-dozen federal government agencies open past a midnight deadline.

But they agreed to keep talking, leaving open the possibility that a deal might be reached to limit the shutdown to days or hours.

The House adjourned until noon Saturday, suggesting lawmakers were hopeful of a deal.

Call it the Trump shutdown. Or the Schumer shutdown. Either way, voters likely will long remember it.

Trump postponed a planned 16-day Christmas vacation at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, but gave no indication of the length of shutdown, or what it might take to end it. Even while most of the federal government is not affected, congressional aides said even a partial shutdown could furlough an estimated 380,000 federal employees, while another 420,000 — such as Border Patrol officers — would have to work without pay.

A full 16-day government shutdown in 2013 cost the economy an estimated $24 billion, a toll that both sides in the standoff had to calculate into the political costs.

Amid a sinking stock market and news of the departure of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the dysfunction surrounding the shutdown drama cast a pall on Capitol Hill late Friday, even as both sides claimed partisan victories.

Trump, backing away from last week’s assertion that he would take responsibility for a shutdown, reversed course Friday and shifted the blame to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and his fellow Democrats, who strenuously opposed his $5 billion wall request. In earlier negotiations, Democrats offered $1.6 billion for Trump’s wall.

“It’s really up to the Democrats, totally up to the Democrats, as to whether or not we have a shutdown,” Trump said.

Schumer, in a floor speech, directed the blame back at Trump, who rejected a bipartisan plan passed by the Senate Wednesday night that would have funded the government through Feb. 8, putting off the dispute over wall money.

“President Trump, you cannot erase months of video of you saying that you wanted a shutdown and that you wanted the responsibility and blame for a shutdown,” Schumer said. “President Trump, you own the shutdown.”

Texas lawmakers largely followed their party-line scripts, with the exception of San Antonio’s Will Hurd, one of only eight House Republicans who voted Thursday night against a GOP bill that gave Trump $5.7 billion for a border wall. The House bill, which passed 217-185, also allocated nearly $8 billion for disaster relief from hurricanes and wildfires.

With two divergent bills clearing the House and Senate, much of Friday’s focus was on a last-ditch effort by Senate Republicans to adopt the House GOP plan with the wall money, requiring some lawmakers who had gone home for the holidays to return to Washington.

But the slim 51-49 GOP majority in the Senate all but precluded final passage, since Senate rules require 60 votes to break a filibuster. Democrats, who had vowed to hang together to oppose Trump’s wall, had little incentive to budge.

A procedural vote to advance the House bill tied 47-47, but passed with a tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Mike Pence. But that only kept talks alive that had been joined by Pence, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and presidential advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

The talks prompted Texas U.S. Rep. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, to tell reporters that he was starting to “feel better” about a resolution to the standoff, which had rendered the Capitol into chaos.

Senate leaders said they would only call another vote if there’s a deal between the president and congressional leaders in both houses.

Trump met early in the day with a group of GOP senators to talk strategy. He also unleashed a morning tweet storm defending his request for wall funding and blaming Democrats for the impasse.

“Shutdown today if Democrats do not vote for Border Security!” Trump wrote in one tweet. In another, he encouraged Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to employ the “nuclear option” of dispensing with the filibuster rule and passing the wall funding with a simple majority.

McConnell and other Republican senators have long opposed the change, fearing it would eventually backfire if they lost their majority.

McConnell has noted that Democrats have supported border security measures in the past. “The only thing that’s really changed are the political winds way over — way over— on the Far Left,” he said on the Senate floor. “So let’s not end this year the way we began it — with another shutdown over the issue of illegal immigration.”

Democrats, however, argued that there’s a difference between border security and the wall, which they consider and costly and ineffective campaign promise which Trump originally said Mexico would pay for.

They also accused Trump of playing to his conservative base, which pressed House Republicans on Thursday to reject the Senate’s first stopgap measure and fight for the wall money. “President Trump, hounded by the radical voices of the hard right, threw another temper tantrum and here we are once again on the brink,” Schumer said.

Texans on both sides said they were standing on principle, not bluffing.

“For me this was a simple choice — stand with President Trump, keep the government open and build the border wall,” said U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, a Republican from The Woodlands. He accused Democratic negotiating position as “political gamesmanship at its worst.”

Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz joined members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus in a full court press to oppose Wednesday’s Senate-passed stopgap that had passed on a voice vote with the backing of McConnell, Republican Whip John Cornyn of Texas, and other GOP leaders.

Some Republicans saw the House bill as their last chance to fund the wall before a new Democratic majority takes over in January.

“We made a promise to our folks to secure our borders and we’ve got to keep that promise,” said Woodville Republican Brian Babin, whose district includes NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “Without question funding to build the wall is necessary and now is our chance to do it.”

Texas Democrats remained unified in their opposition, casting Trump’s wall as an unneeded addition to the communities that surround the border.

“Where would they build the wall? Whose home or ranch or farm are they going to take to build it? Which communities and habitats are they going to destroy?” tweeted El Paso Democrat Beto O’Rourke, whose strong challenge to Cruz in this year’s Senate race has propelled into consideration as a potential 2020 presidential candidate.

O’Rourke encouraged supporters to “reply with your best pictures of the border - let the rest of the country see what’s at stake.”

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