WASHINGTON — As the partial government shutdown stretches into its second day, President Trump brought up one of his favorite suggestions to break the logjam: End the Senate rule that requires 60 votes for legislation to pass.
Trump is calling on Republicans to invoke the “nuclear option” to try to pass a “real, long term” spending bill rather than continue funding the government through a short-term measure.
In the House, Republicans can pass legislation with only their own members because of the size of their majority — and they did so Thursday night to advance a spending bill to keep the government open.
However, the vote fell short in the Senate, where Republicans have a narrow 51-49 majority so passing most legislation requires bipartisan support. Even if the whole party sticks together, they need at least nine Democrats to get on board.
“If ordinary rules prevailed, the majority rules in the Senate, the government would be open as of today,” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said, when asked on CNN Sunday about Trump’s call to change the rules. “It also responds to this constant criticism we hear – ‘Oh, you Republicans control the White House and the House and the Senate, why can’t you just fund the government?’ “
“It takes 60 votes in the Senate,” Mulvaney continued. “We cannot open the government without Senate Democrats’ support.”
The government ran out of funding at 12:01 a.m. Saturday, after the Senate blocked a continuing resolution that would have provided funding for four weeks and included an extension of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The final vote tally in the Senate early Saturday morning was 50-49, with the the majority of Democrats and a handful of Republicans voting against advancing the short-term spending bill. Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona was in getting treatment for brain cancer.
But even though the 60-vote threshold makes it difficult for Republicans to pass their priorities, so far, there doesn’t seem to be an appetite to get rid of the rule.
“The Republican Conference opposes changing the rules on legislation,” David Popp, who is the spokesman for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told USA TODAY.
Democrats also objected. “That would be the end of the Senate as it was originally devised and created going back to our Founding Fathers. We have to acknowledge a respect for the minority,” Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democratic whip, said on ABC.
Government operations began ramping down on the one-year anniversary of Trump’s presidency.
Democrats opposed the short-term spending bill because it did not include protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, or “DREAMers,” and also did not address a broad array of other domestic spending priorities.
Trump announced in September he would end the Obama-era order Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that protected 800,000 immigrants from deportation. Trump gave Congress six months to find a solution for the DREAMers. While there have been multiple bills introduced in Congress, GOP leadership has not committed to bringing up any specific legislation.
Early Saturday morning, Schumer said he had offered a possible solution that Democrats would support, but it was rejected by the White House.
In exchange for a $20 billion commitment for a wall along the southern border, Schumer said Democrats were seeking a commitment to vote on one large spending bill that included a path to legalization for the DREAMers, disaster aid and other domestic spending.
On CNN, Mulvaney said that just “authorizing” money for a wall was not enough.
“You can authorize here left and right – it’s appropriating the money that makes a difference,” Mulvaney said.
Mulvaney added that the Democrats’ ask was “very large” and they needed to vote to re-open the government to have time to negotiate. On Saturday, White House aides said they would not negotiate on immigration until the government re-opened.
Lawmakers stayed in Washington to try and come up with a solution but they spent much of the day huddled in party-line meetings, emerging only to point fingers at the other party.
McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., had not spoken to each other in more than 24 hours, Schumer’s spokesman Matt House said Sunday morning.
There is a vote scheduled for Monday at 1 a.m. on a slightly shortened spending bill — for three weeks instead of four.
It is not clear there are enough votes to move that legislation forward.
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