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Cracks beginning to show in GOP shutdown resolve

The Hill logo The Hill 1/4/2019 Alexander Bolton

Richard Burr wearing a suit and tie holding a glass of wine: Cracks beginning to show in GOP shutdown resolve © Greg Nash Cracks beginning to show in GOP shutdown resolve Republican unity on the partial government shutdown is starting to crack in the face a tough election map in 2020 and no end in sight to the standoff that has hobbled key departments and agencies.

At least three Senate Republicans on Thursday called on Congress to move on legislation to reopen federal agencies - or as many as possible - that have been shuttered since Dec. 22.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has declared any legislation passed by the House to fully reopen federal agencies will be a non-starter in the Senate but he may have trouble keeping all his troops in line.

McConnell has tried to keep his conference out of the fray altogether by insisting any government funding deal depends on negotiations between President Trump and Democratic leaders.

GOP lawmakers, feeling nervous about the prospect of a shutdown dragging on for weeks, are starting to weigh in.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who in the last Congress served as a member of the GOP leadership, on Thursday said Congress should act to reopen government even without a deal on President Trump's demand to allocate $5.6 billion for a border wall.

"I think we should pass a continuing resolution to get the government back open. The Senate has done it last Congress, we should do it again today," Gardner said Thursday, referring to the stopgap spending measure the Senate passed before Christmas, which would have funded federal agencies through Feb. 8.

Senate Republicans thought Trump would sign it into law but he surprised them at the last minute by announcing his opposition, triggering a partial government shutdown on Dec. 22.

Gardner says Congress should give Trump $1.3 billion or $1.6 billion for border fencing - numbers already agreed to by Senate Democrats - and negotiate for more funding while government agencies are open.

"We can pass legislation that has the appropriations number in it while we continue to get more but we should continue to do our jobs and get the government open and let Democrats explain why they no longer support border security," he said.

Gardner is one of several Senate Republicans facing tough re-election battles in 2020 and his home state of Colorado has been hit hard by the shutdown.

So far the state has lost nearly $24 million in revenue because of closed national parks and resulted in more than 7,000 Coloradans losing pay, at least temporarily, according to Colorado's other senator, Michael Bennet (D).

Hillary Clinton won Colorado by five points in 2016.

Senate Republicans have to defend 22 seats in this election cycle while Democrats must protect 12. GOP incumbents will likely face tough races in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine and North Carolina.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Dec. 27 showed that only 25 percent of Americans nationwide support Trump shutting down the government to get leverage for the border wall.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who also faces a potentially tough race in 2020, says Congress should pass the six spending bills not related to homeland security so other federal agencies not touched by the border controversy can resume work as soon as possible.

"It would be great to have them signed into the law because there is not great controversy over them. And at least we'd be getting those workers back to work," Collins said Thursday.

Clinton also carried her state in 2016.

The shutdown has affected operations at the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, State, Transportation and Treasury in addition to Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over the border.

Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) on Thursday said she wants the government shutdown to end as soon as possible.

"I'd like to see it stop," she said, indicating that she might back moving the six non-controversial funding bills separately "if that's what it takes" to minimize the impact of the standoff.

Capito, however, would prefer moving all seven stalled funding bills together, including the one she crafted as chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee.

She has argued for moving that bill, which includes $1.6 billion for border fencing and which most Democrats on the Appropriations Committee voted for in June, along with the others.

"That's the strategy I've been advocating. Let the bill that passed the Senate [Appropriations Committee] be the default bill on the Senate floor and we may end up there," she said.

Capito said the Senate may end up taking up legislation the House is expected to pass late Thursday that would include six of the stalled appropriations bills and a short-term measure funding the Homeland Security.

"I think what will happen is the House bill will come over here and we amend with the Senate bill in. That's the strategy that's being talked about. I just think it's still so up in the air," she said.

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said "nobody likes CRs," referring to continuing resolutions to temporarily fund the government, "but shutting down the government is a bigger mistake than a CR."

Rounds said he would support a stopgap measure that includes "some kind of an agreement that there's some funding" that Trump could claim as a partial victory on border security.

"I just think not having the government open is the wrong message to send to the people of this country. It says we can't do our jobs. It says we're not working with people that may have a differing point of view," he said.

"If the president can agree to something that says I will reopen government because I think I've made some progress here - to give us another 20 days or 30 days or whatever - I don't think there would be anyone who would disagree with that," he added.

Trump has invited congressional leaders back to the White House at 11:30 am Friday for another round of talks but both sides appear dug in, with the president insisting on $5.7 billion for border fencing and Democrats insisting they won't go above $1.3 billion.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) on Thursday raised the prospect that the standoff over the border wall could drag on for months.

"I'm thinking we might be in for a long haul here. ... A long haul, in other words, I don't see any quick resolution to this," Shelby told reporters.

Shelby said he would like to pass six or all seven of the remaining funding bills but acknowledged the decision is McConnell's.

"I would like to move six or seven but that's beyond me," he said.

A newly retired House Republican lawmaker told The Hill Thursday that GOP moderates will be under intense pressure to pass a short-term funding measure even if it doesn't give Trump nearly as much money as he wants for the wall.

"I think they will be under tremendous pressure to take the deal. I think it's a good deal," he added, noting that six of the spending bills are "Republican-negotiated bills" and have nothing to do with the border.

Jordain Carney contributed.

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