WASHINGTON — ‘Twas just days before Christmas, and all through the House — and Senate — not a shutdown solution was stirring, and lawmakers, boy, did they grouse.
The chaos that is President Donald Trump’s White House seemed to wash over the Capitol as this weekend’s partial federal shutdown hovered. While the workings of Congress are often tumultuous, especially as year-end adjournment nears, things seemed even more unbridled than usual.
Congressional leaders and Trump bargainers led by Vice-President Mike Pence failed to prevent scores of government agencies from shuttering their doors Saturday.
Senators who’d gleefully left town earlier in the week, thinking their year’s work was done, flew glumly back for votes that they’d hoped — vainly, it turned out — would keep all agencies open after 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
The usually laconic Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left a Friday meeting with GOP senators to eagerly show reporters a button that said, “Senate Cranky Coalition.”
Virtually all senators, McConnell said, “are a part of this coalition. Yeah, almost unanimous agreement.”
None travelled further for more fleeting gratification than Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz. He flew home to Hawaii, treated his Twitter followers to a selfie capturing part of his 17 minutes with his family, then zoomed back to Washington.
“Wheels down IAD ready to vote no on this stupid wall,” he tweeted at dawn as his plane landed at Dulles International Airport outside Washington.
Republican Sen. Mike Rounds said he’d been home in South Dakota for four hours Thursday when he learned he needed to return to Washington. He was among several senators who said they left Washington with the impression that the House would approve a Senate-passed bill keeping government open and that Trump would sign it.
“We figured they would have a battle, show that they were not happy about it but would move forward,” Rounds said.
House members were also in town and lawmakers did not know when they’d be able to leave for Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Administration officials met in the Capitol with congressional leaders for hours Friday in hopes of resolving the standoff. To kill time, the Senate kept a procedural roll call vote open for more than four hours. The House alternated between long recesses and votes on the kind of bills that always seem to emerge at these moments, including one renaming the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge in Florida as the Nathaniel P. Reed Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge.
In this latest version of Congress’ increasingly frequent shutdown burlesques, the sore spot was Trump’s demand for $5 billion in taxpayer money to start building a border wall he’s repeatedly said Mexico would finance.
Aware of polls showing the wall and a shutdown over it are widely disliked except by loyal Trump supporters, Democrats had little reason to assent. A bill bearing those funds that would also keep agencies functioning into February was stalled.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wrapped the shutdown standoff together with the plunging stock market, Trump’s abrupt pullout of U.S. troops from Syria and the sudden resignation of Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.
“This may have been the most chaotic week of what’s undoubtedly the most chaotic presidency ever in the history of the United States,” Schumer said.
Trump took ownership of the shutdown last week, proclaiming on live television that he’d be “proud” to close the government over his demands for the wall.
Most congressional Republicans wanted to avoid a shutdown in the final days of their two-year lock on the White House and Congress. They were relieved when Trump seemed to signal he’d sign a bill temporarily keeping government afloat without any wall money.
But after the Senate approved just such a measure, conservative pundits and hard-right House members rebelled. Trump reversed himself again and demanded the wall funds and warned, “We’re totally prepared for a very long shutdown.”
That caused disgust, dissension and dismay among many on Capitol Hill. And that was just Republicans.
Meanwhile, the Capitol Lounge near the Capitol was offering shutdown-themed drinks beginning after midnight Friday. A cocktail with tequila was dubbed “Mexico Will Pay for This.”