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Government shutdown begins as budget talks falter in Senate

By Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Thomas Kaplan

WASHINGTON – Much of the federal government officially shut down early Saturday after Senate Democrats, showing remarkable solidarity in the face of a clear political danger, blocked consideration of a stopgap spending measure to keep the government operating.

The shutdown, coming one year to the day after President Donald Trump took office, set off a new round of partisan recriminations and posed risks for both parties. It came after a fruitless last-minute negotiating session at the White House between Trump and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader.

With just 50 senators voting in favor, Senate Republican leaders fell well short of the 60 votes necessary to proceed on the spending measure, which had passed the House on Thursday. Five conservative state Democrats voted for the spending measure. Five Republicans voted against it, although one of those, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, did so for procedural reasons.

As the clock ticked toward midnight, when funding for the government was set to expire, senators huddled on the floor of the crowded chamber, searching for some way forward.

Then, in the early morning hours, McConnell proposed a measure that would keep the government open for another three weeks, not four as the House measure would have done, and said the Senate would come back into session Saturday at noon.

“Senate Democrats own the Schumer Shutdown,” the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement. “Tonight, they put politics above our national security, military families, and our country’s ability to serve all Americans.”

How will the government shutdown affect you? It probably won't.

Democrats, calling it the “Trump shutdown,” countered that Republicans were responsible for the management of a government in their control.

“Every American knows the Republican Party controls the White House, the Senate, the House,’’ Schumer said. “It’s their job to keep the government open.”

In addition to funding government operations through Feb. 16, the House-passed bill would have extended funding by six years for the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, a provision intended to secure Democratic votes.

But Democrats were seeking concessions on other priorities, such as protecting young unauthorized immigrants from deportation, increasing domestic spending, securing disaster aid for Puerto Rico and bolstering the government’s response to the opioid epidemic.

Federal agencies had prepared for the shutdown; on Thursday night, officials at the White House Office of Management and Budget instructed federal agency leaders to give their employees informal notice of who would be furloughed and who would not if funding lapsed.

Formal notifications were to be given as early as Saturday morning, budget office officials said, insisting on anonymity to brief reporters about the details of what the White House called “lapse planning and shutdown operations.”

More than 1 million active-duty military personnel will serve with no lapse, they said, but will not be paid until the shutdown ends. Agencies like the Energy Department that have funding that is not subject to annual appropriations can use that money to stay open, the officials said, and the administration is encouraging them to do so. Most mandatory programs – entitlements such as Social Security that are automatically funded rather than subject to congressional appropriations – can continue without disruption.

Officials said Trump may travel on Air Force One to carry out his constitutional responsibilities, including a planned trip next week to Davos, Switzerland – although it was unclear whether trips to Mar-a-Lago, his exclusive club in Palm Beach, Florida, for golf and socializing would fall into that category.

Trump canceled plans Friday to travel to Florida and will stay in Washington until a spending bill is passed, a White House official said Friday morning.

The Senate’s vote, late Friday, came after a day of budget brinkmanship in Washington that included the 90-minute Oval Office session between Trump and Schumer.

“We had a long and detailed meeting,” Schumer said at the Capitol after leaving the White House. “We discussed all of the major outstanding issues. We made some progress, but we still have a good number of disagreements. The discussions will continue.”

Just hours later, the negotiations collapsed.

By Friday night, a last-minute congressional deal to stop a rare shutdown of a federal government under one-party control remained elusive.

“Our Democratic colleagues are engaged in a dangerous game of chicken,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, warned in a speech on the Senate floor.

Trump, who described his session with Schumer as an “excellent preliminary meeting” in a Twitter post Friday afternoon, did not appear able or willing to suggest his own solution.

Cornyn said Trump had rejected a proposal by Schumer to fund the government through Tuesday to allow negotiations to continue.

“The president told him to go back and talk to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and work it out,” Cornyn said, referring to the House speaker and Senate majority leader. A spokesman for Schumer, Matt House, said that was not true.

Senate Democrats still held out hope that Trump, scorched by the firestorm prompted by his vulgar, racially tinged comments on Africa last week, would be willing to make concessions.

“It’s time for us as Democrats and Republicans to sit down in a room together, think about this great nation and the frustration they have with our political system and those of us in political life,” Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said in a speech on the Senate floor.

Around the country, state and local officials were left scratching their heads at the dysfunction in Washington.

“We’re the United States of America,” Gov. Matt Mead, the two-term Republican governor of Wyoming, said in an interview Friday. “We should be able to figure out these problems without going to the cliff every so often whether it’s with Republicans or Democrats in office. There certainly has to be a better way.”

Democrats delivered speeches on the Senate floor in front of a huge placard that blared: “Trump Shutdown.” At the White House, Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said the Trump administration was preparing for “what we’re calling the ‘Schumer shutdown.’”

Tempers were flaring in the Republican Party as well. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a moderate on immigration who was trying to broker a deal with Democrats, laced into Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas on Friday, deriding him as “the Steve King of the Senate” in an interview with MSNBC, a reference to Iowa congressman who is perhaps the most virulent anti-immigrant voice in Congress.

Cotton, who helped thwart Graham’s efforts, retorted by referring to Graham’s failed 2016 presidential bid.

“The difference between Steve King and Lindsey Graham is that Steve King can actually win an election in Iowa,” Cotton told reporters.

Cotton went on to argue that it was Trump’s views on immigration that powered him to the Republican Party nomination, while Graham was relegated to the “kiddie table” at the primary debates.

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