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A Faint Glimmer of Hope for an End to the Shutdown?

Fiscal Times logoFiscal Times 1/23/2019 Yuval Rosenberg

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Day 32 of the partial government shutdown brought a tiny, faint glimmer of hope that the impasse could be resolved, even as Republicans and Democrats prepare for the next round of legislative volleys in their ongoing blame game.

As the result of a deal reached by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer, the Senate will vote Thursday on two competing proposals to end the shutdown, now in its second month.

One vote will be on President Trump’s proposal, announced over the holiday weekend, which includes $5.7 billion in border wall funding. The other vote will be on legislation passed by the Democratic-led House that would fund the government through February 8.

The scheduled votes are a sign of some bipartisan movement to end the impasse — but they appear unlikely to actually break the stalemate. Democrats remain staunchly opposed to Trump’s proposal and they have enough votes to block it. The Democratic plan, meanwhile, would need at least 13 Republicans to break ranks with the president, who has insisted that any deal to reopen the government must include money for a border wall. McConnell reportedly will not support the Democratic bill.

“What this does is let politically vulnerable senators like Cory Gardner (R), Susan Collins (R) and Doug Jones (D) cross party lines to make a point,” Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur tweeted, adding that there’s a “non-zero chance” that if the Trump plan fails, “there's a jailbreak among Republicans who decide to vote for #2 and say it's time to end the shutdown.”

Trump’s Proposal: ‘The Impression of Flexibility’

Trump, in what he billed a “major announcement” on Saturday, offered temporary protections from deportation for roughly a million immigrants in exchange for the wall funding he’s been seeking.

The proposal was quickly met with criticism, from Democrats and conservatives alike. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it a non-starter. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said it was a “straw man proposal” intended to open up debate, but other conservatives rejected the proposal more vehemently, describing it as “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants. Right-wing firebrand Ann Coulter tweeted Saturday that “Trump proposes amnesty. We voted for Trump and got Jeb!”

Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein described it as “an offer intended to give the impression of flexibility without actually moving in the Democrats’ direction.”

Mitch McConnell wearing a suit and tie: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks after the Republican weekly policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts © JOSHUA ROBERTS/Reuters

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks after the Republican weekly policy lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The Next Round in the Blame Game

The 1,301-page legislation based on Trump’s outline, released on Monday, would provide funding through September for the parts of the government that are shut down; provide the $5.7 billion Trump is seeking for construction of barriers along the border with Mexico; provide $800 million for humanitarian aid; fund a variety of other immigration security measures; and provide $12.7 billion for hurricane and wildfire disaster relief.

But the DACA and TPS provisions in the legislation reportedly don’t align with what Trump had outlined in his speech, and the bill would also require Central American minors to apply for asylum in their home countries rather than at the U.S. border, and it would introduce new caps on asylum claims from those minors. Those hardline provisions give Democrats more reason to reject the proposal. “The asylum changes are a poison pill if there ever was one, and show the lack of good faith that the president and now Leader McConnell have,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said.

Without Democratic support the legislation can’t get the 60 Senate votes necessary to advance.

The Supreme Court further undercut Trump’s plan on Tuesday by not taking action on lower court rulings that blocked Trump from ending DACA. The court’s decision likely keeps DACA in place for several months or longer, reducing the appeal of Trump’s offer.

Bloomberg’s Bernstein suggested that a Senate vote largely along party lines would likely prolong the standoff — but that if some Republicans who have spoken out against the shutdown vote against it, that would make clear how weak Trump’s position is and could move us closer to quickly ending the shutdown. “[F]or any Republicans who want this shutdown to end, opposing Trump’s plan would be the quickest way to make that happen,” he wrote. Now, with a Senate vote planned on simply reopening the government, Republicans have an even faster path there — if they want it.

Reason for Hope?

Even before the Senate’s plans to vote on Thursday were announced, Greg Valliere, chief global strategist at Horizon Investments, suggested that while both parties remain firmly dug in based on their public comments, “in private there's some movement on two key issues – the Democrats could accept funding for a border barrier, and the Republicans could bend further on the issue of protection for the so-called ‘Dreamers.’ To paraphrase a classic Winston Churchill quote, now we're just arguing over the details.”

Valliere noted that Trump’s approval ratings are plunging and that some Democrats “are grumbling that the party has not showed sufficient compassion for the 800,000 federal workers who are not getting paychecks.” A group of centrists Democrats is asking Pelosi to agree to hold a vote on funding for Trump’s wall if he signs a bill to reopen the government, Politico reported Monday. (Trump had previously rejected a similar proposal made by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.)

And House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) floated what could be seen as the outlines of a deal Sunday. “We would love to have a permanent fix for DACA and TPS just as he wants a permanent wall,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

The details of such a compromise may be nearly impossible to hammer out, though, with hardliners on both sides already pushing back on key points, which may be why even Valliere says that a negotiated end to the standoff isn’t all that likely — and, at best, would still be weeks away: “After the likely failure of Trump's plan on Capitol Hill this week, it still appears that the best bet would be him declaring a national emergency or using executive authority to pry loose some funding for a border barrier – then lifting the shutdown while his executive action is litigated. The alternative is pushing for a deal that still may take weeks to come into clear focus.”

Meanwhile, federal employees affected by the shutdown are set to miss their second paycheck this week.

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