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Negotiations on Spending Deal Will Continue, But No Deal in Sight

Senate won’t vote on House spending plan, McConnell says he hopes White House and Democrats can make a deal

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., is seen on the Capitol's Senate steps before a procedural vote on the spending bill on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., is seen on the Capitol's Senate steps before a procedural vote on the spending bill on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker reached an agreement with the two Senate leaders that no vote on a spending plan will happen until there’s agreement between Senate Democrats, House Republicans and the White House.

“We’re not voting on anything else … until there’s a global agreement,” Corker said on the Senate floor.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was moving the bill forward “in order to preserve maximum flexibility” for any negotiations with six hours before some federal agencies’ funding ran out.

“I hope Senate Democrats will work with the White House on an agreement that can pass both Houses of Congress and receive the president’s signature,” McConnell said.

The House adjourned shortly after 7 p.m., signaling that there would be nothing for either chamber to vote on Friday night.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn said earlier that he felt good about an afternoon meeting on Capitol Hill between Democratic Leader Charles E. Schumer and the White House on Friday afternoon.

Schumer met with Vice President Mike Pence, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner on Capitol Hill.

“We haven’t gotten a report yet, but the fact that’s happening represents progress,” Cornyn said. Cornyn said he didn’t know how the meeting came about but said he was “so happy about it.”

The Senate was voting on a procedural move to advance a House spending plan that contains funding for Trump’s border wall. The vote was held open as senators who had left D.C. returned and leaders counted votes.

Democrats have promised not to support the House funding plan — no House Democrat voted for it on Thursday night — and Trump has promised to shut down the government if the Senate rejects the plan.

Republican senators met with Trump at the White House Friday morning and came away with the impression that he was adamant that any spending plan contained funds for his wall.

Unless Congress and the White House can reach an agreement before midnight, nine departments and several agencies will partially close days before Christmas.

Here’s how we got to this point:

6:23 p.m.: The president tweeted a photo of himself seated behind the Resolute Desk signing a stack of bills Congress has sent him in recent days. He added he nixed his planned trip to Florida to see if Democrats “will help us to protect America’s Southern Border!” But at that time, there was no Marine outside the West Wing doors, a sign the commander in chief is inside the West Wing.

6:02 p.m.: Schumer reiterated that there are three funding options that Democrats will accept to provide government funding past Friday: the clean continuing resolution that passed the Senate on Wednesday; a package that includes the six remaining spending bills and a full-year stopgap for the Department of Homeland Security; or all seven spending bills, if the Homeland Security bill is contains $1.6 billion for 65 miles of “pedestrian fencing” in the Rio Grande Valley.

“Democrats have offered three proposals to keep the government open, including a proposal offered by Leader McConnell that passed the Senate unanimously only a few days ago,” Schumer said. “We are willing to continue discussions on those proposals with the Leader, the President, the Speaker of the House, and the Leader of the House.”

5:14 p.m.: Trump tweeted an artist’s rendering of his envisioned border barrier. It features a number of what he again called “steel slats.” He also described it as “totally effective while at the same time beautiful!” Trump calls them slats. A Schumer spokesman says any final bill could call for “pedestrian fencing” dollars — but not wall funding. Bottom line: The semantics will matter a lot as talks continue.

4:25 p.m.: Trump got a pep talk on his wall demand from a somewhat unlikely source earlier in the Oval Office during the criminal justice bill signing. .

Alveda King, the niece of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr., told those assembled for the event that “a long time ago there were two leaders – Ezra and Nehemiah, and they had to build a wall.”

“Some guys,” she said, “were just all kinds of talking trash [about it]. …And so the leaders said, ‘We’re not coming down off this wall,’” she said, then addressing Trump to applause from the others in the room: “So, please do not come down off the wall! … And so I just want to say, thank you, you keep your promises. So keep going, sir!”

4:15 p.m.: Cornyn said the vote on the motion to proceed will likely remain open until Democrats, Republicans and the White House can reach an agreement on border wall spending issues.

Cornyn said there are some senators who won’t be returning to Washington for “various reasons.” But “In the end it doesn’t really matter, because we can’t make a deal unless we have a bipartisan consensus, in which event those people might not need to come back,” he said. “So we’re all thinking positive thoughts.”

3:43 p.m.: Vice President Mike Pence is meeting with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

3:41 p.m.: There could be a border wall funding level below Trump’s $5 billion demand that he would accept, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tells Roll Call.

“We’ll see what they’re willing to do on their side,” she said of Democrats. “Talks are ongoing.”

Asked whether the president is willing to negotiate with Democrats — especially with a House-passed stopgap that includes Trump’s wall demand likely failing in the Senate — she replied: “It’s always been a negotiation.”

3:30 p.m.: Pence arrives at the Capitol and goes to his office off the Senate chamber.

3:25 p.m.: U.S. markets continues to slide Friday ahead of a likely partial shutdown. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted again, down 353 points Friday, losing 1.55 percent of its value. The NASDAQ index dropped 177 points (-2.71 percent). The S&P 500 dropped 42.5 points (-1.73 percent).

3:20 p.m.: California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein issued a statement accusing the president of “holding major portions of the government hostage,” saying lawmakers and Trump “agreed on a short-term funding bill to keep the government open through February.”

“President Trump boasted last week that he would be solely responsible if the government shutdown,” she said. “Well, that’s one promise it appears he’ll keep.”

2:00 p.m.: The Senate is stalled at a 43-45 impasse on a vote to advance a House stopgap funding bill that includes billions in funding for the president’s border wall. Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who lambasted Trump’s capitulation to his base on border wall funding as akin to “tyranny” earlier Friday, has so far withheld his vote.

Corker is withholding his vote to keep his procedural options open until they get close to calling it. He may not be alone.

— Niels Lesniewski (@nielslesniewski) December 21, 2018

1:43 p.m.: “Get out of here, Chuck, go, go!” the president said as Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley rushed out of the White House to cast a vote on advancing the House’s stopgap funding bill, according to the press pool report. Grassley joined Trump as he signed the First Step Act into law.

1:27 p.m.: Trump raises odds of a shutdown with this comment: “It’s possible that we’ll have a shutdown, I would say the chances are probably very good because I don’t think Democrats care so much about, maybe, this issue.”

1:23 p.m.: Trump and Senate Republicans met for more than an hour in the Oval Office, but he did not announce any proposal to avoid a Christmas crisis when he addressed reporters after. Nor did McConnell when he returned to the Capitol.

“There’s a very good chance it won’t get passed,” Trump said of a House-passed stopgap spending bill being voted on by Senate in what could be a lengthy process. He seemed giddy that House Republicans passed a version of the continuing resolution with over $5 billion for his wall project even though House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told him last week he lacked ample votes in the House to pass such a measure.

1:12 p.m.: McConnell told some reporters on his way to the floor there is a “good chance” of a partial shutdown.

12:46 p.m.: McConnell endorses the House version of the funding bill.

12:32 p.m.: Despite the coming Christmas crisis, Trump said “positive” things have been happening this week.

12:31 p.m.: “A lot of them have supported this in the past,” McConnell said of Democratic senators and previous immigration bills with enhanced border security measures. He blamed the “far left” for pulling Democratic senators away from “common sense measures.”

“Let’s advance this legislation,” he said of the House-amended stopgap.

12:29 p.m.: McConnell returned to the Capitol from meeting with Trump and delivered what amounted to a sales pitch for Trump’s wall, calling Democrats’ opposition “absurd.”

12:19 p.m.: “We are going to be working very hard to get something passed in the Senate,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office after his meeting with Republican senators. He said it is “up to the Democrats as to whether or not we have a shutdown tonight.”

The president said he hopes there is no partial shutdown but he is prepared to ride it out if one happens in a few hours.

Noon: Retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee told reporters that Trump’s about-face on a government shutdown following criticism from far-right media personalities like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter amounts to “tyranny.”

“We have two talk-radio show hosts who basically influenced the president, and we’re in a shutdown mode. It’s just — that’s tyranny, isn’t it?” Corker said.

Corker also signaled opposition to invoking the “nuclear option” to fund Trump’s border wall.

Noon: The Senate convenes. Democratic Sen. Chris Coons said it would be “ambitious” for the Senate to vote on some type of spending package in the noon hour, but didn’t completely rule it out.

“If the president actually wants to negotiate and avoid a shutdown, he should be negotiating with both Democratic and Republican leadership,” he said.

11:33 a.m.: The day’s White House press pool continues to wait to be escorted to an event with Trump where he will sign a criminal justice overhaul bill that led some conservatives to publicly criticize him — which, in part, led him to move back to his hardline immigration whims.

The event was slated to start at 11 a.m., but the president continues meeting with Senate Republicans.

11:28 a.m.: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in part faults Fox News for the shutdown.

11:19 a.m.: Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn was one of the few lawmakers Friday proposing a possible solution. He said if Senate Democrats would agree to add the $1.6 billion for 65 miles of pedestrian fencing in the Rio Grande Valley that was included in that chamber’s Homeland Security spending bill to the stopgap spending bill, there might be enough votes to avoid a partial shutdown.

“If Democrats would cooperate and provide some money for the border wall like they did when the bill came out of the DHS approps committee then I think there’s room for compromise. But the president is obviously not in the mood for zeroing that out,” Cornyn said after returning to the Capitol from Texas. One catch: House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland said this week his caucus will not support one penny for the border barrier.

Cornyn told reporters at the Capitol that he was back in the Lone Star State for roughly 12 hours before catching a flight back to Washington Friday morning. “I think I got in about 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon and I got on a 5:25 a.m. flight this morning.”

10:28 a.m.: Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander makes the third retiring Republican senator to voice opposition to the “nuclear option” of approving a more than $5 billion appropriation for a wall at the Mexican border with a simple majority vote.

“It is like allowing the home team to change the rules in the middle of the game, saying a nine yard gain is a first down, or a three point shot counts for four,” Alexander said in a statement.

10:08 a.m.: The messenger in chief is trying to convince the public — or at least his conservative base — that he and Republicans have no responsibility if the nine Cabinet agencies and smaller offices run out of money Friday. “The Democrats now own the shutdown!” he tweeted.


9:45 a.m.: Retiring Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Jeff Flake of Arizona almost simultaneously break with Trump and come out against the nuclear option. 

The Senate filibuster is about the only mechanism left in Washington that brings the parties together. Deploying the nuclear option would blow that up. I will not vote to do it.

Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) December 21, 2018

9:36 a.m.: White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announces Trump will meet with a group of Senate Republicans at 10:30 a.m. to “discuss the Funding Bill and the importance of Border Security.”

9:12 a.m.: The Senate is scheduled to reconvene shortly after noon to consider the House spending measure. Many had left D.C. after they had voted to approve a continuing resolution to fund the government into February on Wednesday.

9:09 a.m.: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) boards an Amtrak train headed back to the Capitol and sees a metaphor.

8:38 a.m.: Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., insists Democrats do not oppose the wall on principle. The shutdown is “about Dems denying POTUS a win,” he tweeted.

8:20 a.m.: Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell  suggests Trump is unfit for office. Swalwell asked if by endorsing the “nuclear option” Trump meant the 25th Amendment of the Constitution dealing with steps to be taken if a president is ruled unable to carry out his duties.

8:02 a.m. Trump endorses the “nuclear option” to pass funding for his budget wall with a simple majority in the Senate, rather than the typical procedural hurdle of 60 votes.  Trump urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to “get it done.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has long said the support does not exist for extending the simple-majority threshold to limit debate to the legislative calendar, and back in January a senior Senate GOP aide said the votes did not exist within the Republican Conference for such a move.

What’s the Nuclear Option? Dismantling This Senate Jargon

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7:42 a.m.: Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., suggests the president is “giddy” about shutting down the government because it provides a distraction from the mounting legal problems of his former campaign and administration aides.

7:24 a.m.: Trump threatens a shutdown that will last “for a very long time.”

Trump grew more and more blunt in a morning Twitter rant, at one point essentially telling his millions of followers that a partial government shutdown over Christmas is likely: “Shutdown today if Democrats do not vote for Border Security!”

4:08 a.m.: Senators departed for their winter break after they passed a bill that funds the government through February, but Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, tweeted that he had flown back to D.C. to vote down the House’s proposal to increase border security spending by more than $5 billion.

He enjoyed a “17 minute visit” with his family before returning to the Beltway.

John T. Bennett, Emily Kopp, Niels Lesniewski, Kellie Mejdrich and Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.Watch: What Really Happens During a Government Shutdown, Explained

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