Se­nate GOP feel­ing pres­sure

Repub­li­cans grow­ing more con­cerned that shut­down hurt­ing party

Hartford Courant - - Front Page - By Feli­cia Son­mez and Cat Zakrzewski Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Twenty-four days into the long­est gov­ern­ment shut­down in U.S. his­tory and with the White House and House Democrats no closer to a deal, pres­sure is ramp­ing up on Se­nate Repub­li­cans to craft an exit plan that will get fed­eral em­ploy­ees back to work and pull their party out of a deep­en­ing po­lit­i­cal quag­mire.

In a sign that Repub­li­cans are in­creas­ingly con­cerned that the stand­off over Pres­i­dent Trump’s long-promised bor­der wall is hurt­ing their party, Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., sug­gested tem­po­rar­ily re­open­ing the gov­ern­ment while con­tin­u­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions. If talks don’t bear fruit, Gra­ham said Sun­day, the pres­i­dent could con­sider fol­low­ing through on his threat to by­pass Congress and build the wall along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der by declar­ing a na­tional emer­gency.

“I would urge him to open up the gov­ern­ment for a short pe­riod of time, like three weeks, be­fore he pulls the plug,” Gra­ham said on “Fox News Sun­day.” “See if we can get a deal. If we can’t at the end of three weeks, all bets are off. See if he can do it by him­self through the emer­gency pow­ers.”

The ma­neu­ver­ing by a key Trump ally high­lights the dif­fi­cult bal­anc­ing act Se­nate Repub­li­cans will prob­a­bly face over the next two years, trapped be­tween a mer­cu­rial GOP pres­i­dent and an em­bold­ened new House Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity.

The two sides re­mained far apart Sun­day. Tweet­ing from the White House as the cap­i­tal was blan­keted by snow for the first time this year, Trump con­tin­ued to point the fin­ger at Democrats, who he said were “ev­ery­where but Washington as peo­ple await their pay.”

At the same time, Democrats ramped up calls for Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., to take up Housep­a­ssed leg­is­la­tion to fund the gov­ern­ment, re­gard­less of whether the pres­i­dent agrees. McCon­nell, whose of­fice in­sists it’s up to Democrats to make a deal, has taken a low pub­lic pro­file as the stale­mate drags on, seem­ingly wary of be­ing burned once again by Trump af­ter the pres­i­dent did an abrupt about-face last month and op­posed a tem­po­rary fund­ing bill that had cleared the Se­nate.

So far, three Repub­li­can sen­a­tors — Cory Gard­ner of Colorado and Su­san Collins of Maine, both run­ning for re-elec­tion in states Trump lost in 2016; and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called for an im­me­di­ate end to the par­tial shut­down even with­out the more than $5 bil­lion Trump has de­manded for the wall. The im­passe l eft about 800,000 fed­eral work­ers with­out a pay­check Fri­day, when law­mak­ers were back in their states.

If other sen­a­tors be­gin feel­ing the heat from con­stituents, they could force McCon­nell’s hand, Repub­li­can strate­gist Doug Heye said. “If he has, like, three more Repub­li­can sen­a­tors — who­ever they may be — call­ing for some­thing to be done, then that changes the cal­cu­lus,” he said. “But un­til that hap­pens, there is no po­lit­i­cal mo­ti­va­tion for McCon­nell.”

Twenty-two Se­nate Repub­li­cans, in­clud­ing McCon­nell, are up for re­elec­tion in 2020, com­pared with 12 Se­nate Democrats. But the ma­jor­ity of the Repub­li­can-held seats are in solid red states, where the great­est fear for GOP in­cum­bents is a pri­mary chal­lenge from the right. Only a hand­ful of Repub­li­cans are in po­ten­tially com­pet­i­tive races, in­clud­ing Collins, Gard­ner, Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, Thom Til­lis of North Carolina, Martha McSally of Ari­zona and David Per­due of Ge­or­gia.

Pub­lic opin­ion could in­crease the pres­sure. A Washington Post-ABC News poll re­leased Sun­day said that more Ameri- cans blame Trump and Repub­li­cans in Congress for the shut­down than con­gres­sional Democrats. Fifty-three per­cent of re­spon­dents blame the pres­i­dent and Repub­li­cans, while 29 per­cent blame Democrats. Thir­teen per­cent blame both equally. More Amer­i­cans re­main op­posed to the idea of a bor­der wall than sup­port it, the poll found, al­though the mar­gin has nar­rowed over the past year.

Se­nate Democrats are seiz­ing the op­por­tu­nity to pres­sure their Repub­li­can col­leagues. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illi­nois, the cham­ber’s No. 2 Demo­crat, said mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans who sought to bro­ker a deal last week should make an ap­peal to McCon­nell.

“It’s time for those cen­trists to speak up in their own Repub­li­can Se­nate cau­cus and tell Mitch McCon­nell, ‘The party’s over. We want this to end, there’s no ex­cuse for the shut­down,’ ” Durbin said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” He added that “once the pres­i­dent re­al­izes he’s lost the Se­nate Repub­li­cans, we can roll up our sleeves, open the gov­ern­ment and get down to busi­ness.”

An­other Demo­crat, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Vir­ginia, raised t he prospect of the Se­nate band­ing to­gether to by­pass the pres­i­dent and force the fund­ing bills through. Manchin, who rep­re­sents a state Trump won by more than 40 points, said in a state­ment Sun­day t hat given Trump’s sug­ges­tion late last week that he does not im­me­di­ately plan to is­sue an emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion, “it’s time for Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell to bring up the House-passed ap­pro­pri­a­tions bills that would fi­nally re­open gov­ern­ment.”

“As an equal branch of gov­ern­ment we have the author­ity to over­ride the Pres­i­dent’s veto, if that’s what he chooses to do,” Manchin said.

Yet McCon­nell’s of­fice re­it­er­ated that it is up to Democrats to reach an agree­ment with the pres­i­dent. In a state­ment, McCon­nell spokesman Don Ste­wart also noted that Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., has stip­u­lated that any fund­ing bill must have the sup­port of both par­ties’ lead­ers and the pres­i­dent be­fore it is brought up for a vote in the cham­ber.

“What isn’t hap­pen­ing, though, is Democrats de­mand­ing that their lead­er­ship get back in the room and ne­go­ti­ate,” Ste­wart said. “Once Democrats can reach an agree­ment with the pres­i­dent, the Se­nate can act on that.”

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