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For Senate, a day of pomp and ceremony marred by shutdown clouds

As new Congress convenes, flap over government spending follows members

Vice President Mike Pence leaves the Old Senate Chamber after conducting the ceremonial swear-in of senators in January 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Vice President Mike Pence leaves the Old Senate Chamber after conducting the ceremonial swear-in of senators in January 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate opened a new Congress Thursday with a partial government shutdown still underway. But the day was still reserved for more ceremony than substance.

After swearing-in the newly elected and re-elected senators on the Senate floor just after noon on Thursday as outlined in the Constitution, Vice President Mike Pence made his way to the Old Senate Chamber for the traditional photo ops and ceremonial swearings-in for most of the third of the Senate on the ballot this past November.

But the celebratory mood was muted somewhat by the ongoing lapse in appropriations for about a quarter of  discretionary spending that’s prompted a partial government shutdown now in its second week.

Pence had a brief chance encounter with Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., in which, according to a spokeswoman for the vice president, Pence encouraged Democrats to attend a meeting at the White House on Friday.

Watch: Sparring over the shutdown

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Given the shutdown, the first afternoon of floor speeches in the new Congress sounded a lot like the final floor speeches of the prior Congress (making the Senate feel even more of a “continuing body” than usual).

“Thirteen days that nine of fifteen federal departments and dozens of agencies have shut their doors,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont. “Thirteen days in which hundreds of thousands of Americans have been furloughed or are working without pay, and thirteen days that Americans have been denied government services on which they rely on and pay their taxes for.”

“The president is holding federal government funding hostage in an attempt to force Congress to pay for an ineffective and expensive wall on the southern border, a wall he promised that Mexico would pay for.  Unfortunately, the American people are paying for the price of the Trump Shutdown, and he seems not to care,” added Leahy, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

For Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Thursday was a day to re-state what he called the “terms of engagement” for trying to cut a deal with President Donald Trump and the new House Democratic majority.

“We need a bicameral, bipartisan, compromise solution. We need an arrangement that can check these three boxes: passage in the House; achieve the support of at least 60 Senators; and the president’s signature. It’s not complicated — that’s how you make a law. The legislation that House Democrats reportedly plan to vote on later today is not a serious attempt to check all three of those boxes,” McConnell said. “In fact, it ignores the bipartisan conference negotiations and progress made on these spending bills over the last month. So, I would call it political theater; not productive lawmaking.”

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