WASHINGTON — Congress sped toward reopening the government Monday as Democrats reluctantly voted to temporarily pay for resumed operations, relenting in a fight over immigration in return for assurances from Republican leaders that the Senate will soon take up the plight of young “dreamers” and other contentious issues.
The vote set the stage for hundreds of thousands of federal workers to return on Tuesday, cutting short what could have become a messy and costly impasse. The House was expected to vote later in the day.
But by relenting, the Democrats prompted a backlash from immigration activists and liberal base supporters who wanted them to fight longer and harder for legislation to protect from deportation the 700,0090 or so younger immigrants who were brought to the country as children and now are here illegally.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell’s commitment to quickly tackle the issue of the “dreamers” was contingent on Democrats providing enough votes now for a stopgap spending funding measure lasting a little less than three weeks. Sixty votes were needed to end the Democrats’ filibuster, and the party’s senators provided 33 of the 81 the measure got. Eighteen senators, including members of both parties, were opposed.
Hours later the Senate approved the final bill by the same 81-18 vote, sending it to the House and President Donald Trump for expected approval so the government can reopen. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders predicted that operations would return to normal by Tuesday morning.
Democrats climbed onboard after two days of negotiations that ended with new reassurances from Senate Majority Leader McConnell that the Senate would consider immigration proposals in the coming weeks. But there were deep divides in the Democratic caucus over strategy, as red-state lawmakers fighting for their survival broke with progressive looking satisfy liberals’ and immigrants’ demands,
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer lent his backing to the agreement during a speech on the chamber’s floor. “Now there is a real pathway to get a bill on the floor and through the Senate,” he said of legislation to halt any deportation efforts aimed at the younger immigrants.
However, the agreement to reopen the government provided no certainty for the “dreamers,” and the short-term stopgap sets up another potential crisis point on Feb. 8.
The White House downplayed McConnell’s commitment, and said Democrats caved under pressure. “They blinked,” principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah told CNN. In a statement, Trump said he’s open to immigration deal only if it is “good for our country.”
Immigration activists and other groups harshly criticized the deal reached by the Democratic leadership.
Cristina Jimenez, executive director of United We Dream, said the members of the group are “outraged.” She added that senators who voted Monday in favour of the deal “are not resisting Trump, they are enablers.”
Other groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union expressed disappointment and shared similar criticism.
A block of liberal Democrats — some of them 2020 presidential hopefuls — stuck to their opposition. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Dianne Feinstein of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey voted no, as did Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Feinstein said she wasn’t persuaded by McConnell’s assurances and did not know how a proposal to protect the more than 700,000 younger immigrants would fare in the House.
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana voted no on the procedural motion to re-open the government — the only no vote among 10 incumbent Democrats facing re-election this year in states won by Trump in 2016. Tester said in a statement that the 17-day budget did not include any funding for community health centres that are important to his rural state, nor did the deal include additional resources for border security.
House Speaker Paul Ryan told “Fox and Friends” Monday that if the Senate approved a temporary spending bill to reopen the government through Feb. 8, the House would approve it, too.
The Senate vote came as most government offices cut back drastically or even closed on Monday, as the major effects of the shutdown were first being felt with the beginning of the workweek.
McConnell said he hoped to reach bipartisan solutions on immigration, border security, disaster aid, military funding and more by Feb. 8. If not, he said “it would be my intention to take up legislation” addressing those issues.
Republicans have appeared increasingly confident that Democrats would bear the brunt of criticism for the shutdown. The White House and GOP leaders said they would not negotiate with Democrats on immigration until the government was reopened, and White House officials boasted that Trump didn’t reach out to any Democratic lawmakers during the shutdown.
In fact, Trump, who regularly disrupted negotiations in recent weeks, had been a relatively subdued player in the weekend debate. On Monday, he accused Democrats of prioritizing services and security for noncitizens over U.S. citizens. “Not good,” his first tweet said. In a second tweet, he said, “Democrats have shut down our government in the interests of their far left base. They don’t want to do it but are powerless!”
Trump’s first tweet appeared to undercut comments by his legislative affairs director, Marc Short, who told CNN that the immigrants in question are law-abiding and “productive to our society.” Short says the administration wants to “find a pathway for them” to stay in the U.S.
Although the Democrats initially dug in on a demand for an immigration deal, they had shifted to blaming the shutdown on the incompetence of Republicans and Trump. The Democrats seemed sensitive to being seen by voters as willing to tie up government operations to protect immigrants in the U.S. illegally.
In an impassioned closed-door meeting, Schumer told his members that McConnell’s pledge was the best deal they were going to get.
On the Senate floor, No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said that for shutting down the government, the Democrats “got nothing.” He added that even though McConnell promised to take up the immigration bill by February, “he was going to do that anyway.”
While lawmakers feuded, signs of the shutdown were evident at national parks and in some federal agencies. Social Security and most other safety-net programs were unaffected by the lapse in federal spending authority. Critical government functions continued, with uniformed service members, health inspectors and law enforcement officers set to work without pay.