The Slatest

Government Shuts Down After a Failed, Frantic, Two-Hour Senate Vote

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Win McNamee/Getty Images

A group of mostly Senate Democrats filibustered a Republican bill to fund the government Friday night, and the government is now officially in a shutdown.

The vote, which began around 10:15 p.m., was kept open for about two hours as senators frantically tried to find a way forward. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, two Republican senators who voted against the bill, did much of the work, shuttling back and forth between separate clusters encircling the Democratic and Republican leaders.

About an hour into the vote, it looked as though a deal could be imminent. The two leaders, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, twice walked off the floor to a private area to go over details; Graham and Schumer at one point fist-bumped each other. They were mulling an idea Graham had been trying to sell each leader in the hours before the vote: A three-week government funding bill, rather than a four-week bill. The one-week difference seems silly, because it… is. Graham’s argument, though, was that he didn’t want to let this linger for another month, but also didn’t want the next deadline to “land” during the week of President Trump’s State of the Union in late January. Early February it is, then.

But the deal never congealed before the deadline, and Schumer and McConnell went their separate ways to talk to their respective members. Democrats would look like total cavers to accept a three-week bill rather than a four-week bill they had described as a sin against God; Republicans felt confident enough about their position that they could run out the clock against Democrats.

When McConnell, at 12:15 a.m., finally voted “no”—a procedural move that allows him to bring the measure up for a vote again—the vote was called at 50 to 49. Though the cloture vote required 60 to break a filibuster, getting a majority was key for McConnell, since it allowed him to suggest that the bill would have passed if not for the Democratic filibuster.

McConnell believes that the Democrats have made an incredibly stupid move: filibustering a spending bill, none of the contents of which they objected to, in order to secure a deal related to “the issue of illegal immigration.” Though finding a solution for the expiring Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program polls well, a shutdown over the issue does not, and it especially does not in the states where Senate Democrats are most vulnerable.

The Democratic caucus is split between numerous potential presidential candidates trying to win over the progressive base and others who are trying to keep their seats in states that Trump won. This divide is not lost on McConnell, and he intends to skewer Democrats over it.

Schumer, for his part, labeled this the “Trump Shutdown,” and the product of the president’s inability to accept an immigration deal on which Democrats made concessions. Schumer, who had visited the White House earlier in the day, emphasized that he had put the border wall on the table, only to be rejected.

“Every American knows the Republican Party controls the White House, the Senate, and the House,” Schumer said after the vote. It’s a failure of Republicans to govern, he argued, to not consult the minority party.

The Senate will go through the motions of some additional votes Friday night before returning Saturday.

The blame game is now underway, judging by the number of statements in my inbox. Republicans in Congress, frankly, seem much more confident than their Democrats counterparts that they have the stronger argument on this one. That doesn’t ensure that the rest of the country will buy it.