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Vote on funding bill fails in Senate; shutdown appears inevitable

By Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Thomas Kaplan

WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats, showing remarkable solidarity Friday in the face of a clear political danger, blocked consideration of a stopgap spending measure to keep the government operating, leaving less than two hours for lawmakers to find a way to avert a midnight shutdown of much of the federal government.

Senate Republican leaders fell well short of the 60 votes necessary to proceed on the spending bill, which had passed the House on Thursday. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was trying to rally support for a shorter temporary spending measure that would allow both parties to save face.

But even if the Senate adopted such a bill, it would also have to pass the House. With time running out, at least a short shutdown appeared inevitable.

The 10 p.m. vote came after a day of budget brinkmanship in Washington that included a last-minute negotiating session between President Donald Trump and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. The 90-minute meeting produced progress, both men said, but no deal. Just hours later, it appeared to collapse.

"Not looking good for our great Military or Safety & Security on the very dangerous Southern Border," Trump wrote on Twitter about a half-hour before the Senate vote. "Dems want a Shutdown in order to help diminish the great success of the Tax Cuts, and what they are doing for our booming economy."

The House-passed bill would fund government operations through Feb. 16 and extend 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.

How would a government shutdown affect you? It probably won't.

House Republican leaders told their members Friday night that no "imminent votes" were expected, indicating that, after midnight, parts of the government would be closed. Federal agencies were preparing for that eventuality; 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 are 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 would serve with no lapse, they said, but would not be paid until the shutdown ended. Agencies like the Energy Department that have funding that is not subject to annual appropriations could use that money to stay open, the officials said, and the administration was encouraging them to do so. Most mandatory programs – entitlements such as Social Security that are automatically funded rather than subject to congressional appropriations – could 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, such as the one he had planned for this weekend, would fall into that category.

The president tried to jump-start negotiations by inviting Schumer to meet with him in the Oval Office.

"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."

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 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. Graham, a moderate Republican 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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