Washington • Two Senate bills aimed at fully reopening the federal government failed to secure enough votes Thursday, leaving hundreds of thousands of federal employees still furloughed or working without pay in what continues to be the longest closure in American history.
The two competing measures – one backed by President Donald Trump with billions for a border wall and another by Democrats without wall funding – weren't expected to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance to a final vote but Thursday's efforts underscored the depth of the political impasse that has now extended 34 days.
“What's it going to take for us to reopen this government?” an exasperated Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said after the chamber couldn't agree on a plan to end the shutdown.
Utah’s two Republican senators canceled out each other’s votes.
Sen. Mitt Romney voted for both proposals, joining five fellow Republicans to support the Democratic measure that would fund the government through Feb. 8 to end the shutdown temporarily while negotiations take place.
“I’ve heard loud and clear from the people of Utah: end the shutdown and secure the border. I voted in favor of the president’s proposed compromise, which would have achieved both goals," Romney said.
"When that measure failed, I also voted for an alternative proposal that would open the government and give the Democrats two weeks to put up or shut up — come to the table and agree to a final deal on border security and enforcement. That proposal also failed, and now it is up to Republican and Democratic leadership to come together and negotiate a final deal that funds border security.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, voted against both measures. He and Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., were the only Republicans to oppose their own party’s bill.
“If this had been a vote to begin debate on a deal to end the shutdown, I would have happily voted yes,” Lee said in a statement.
“But this was a vote to end debate on a bill that I believe is fundamentally flawed,” he added. “In fact, after specifically asking for assurances that we would be allowed to offer amendments, no assurances were given. This bill as is simply does not do enough to reform our immigration system or address the crisis at our southern border.”
After the Senate bills failed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., were meeting privately to try and hammer out a solution to end the shutdown, which has affected a slew of departments and agencies as well as national parks.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said Thursday afternoon that meeting is to “see whether or not they can work out of the deadlock” and reiterated that a three-week stopgap budget plan the Democrats put forward would only work if “there is a large down payment on the wall.”
Thursday's vote was the first time the GOP-led Senate had taken up legislation to end the shutdown, which started Dec. 22 when Congress and the White House couldn't agree on a budget. Most of the government is still funded by prior legislation but nearly a quarter of federal agencies are shuttered. Half of the 800,000 workers affected are in jobs where they're forced to work without pay.
Congress had passed a budget that funded the government — essentially the same plan Democrats put forward Thursday — though Trump balked when it didn’t include $5.7 billion for a border wall.
The House, now under Democratic control, has voted multiple times to pass bills that would end the partial shutdown, but McConnell has refused to take them up for a vote.
Mormon Women for Ethical Government, a group of about 6,000 women founded in the wake of Trump’s election, praised Romney and other GOP senators for putting “country above party” by voting for the Democratic bill. But they criticized senators who stood by Trump.
“It is unconscionable for Congress to allow hundreds of thousands of federal workers and their families to continue to suffer because of a purely political crisis,” the group said in a statement. “We have been praying for our leaders to have wisdom and humility, and we have persistently contacted their offices to ask that they bring an end to this unnecessary shutdown.”
In remarks later to reporters, Trump said he would sign legislation that reopened the government as long as there was a “pro-rated down payment” for the wall. He also claimed that Democrats were now in favor of his wall plan.
“In fact I see a lot of the Democrats, almost all of them, are breaking and saying, look, walls are good, walls are good,” Trump said after all but one Democrat voted against wall funding. “Big difference from what you had two or three weeks ago.”
And the president said he wouldn't budge on the requirement for any budget bill to include money for a wall even as McConnell and Schumer were negotiating.
“We’ll see if they can work out something, maybe on a temporary basis where we’ll start, but we have a lot of alternatives. There are a lot of people who want this to happen,” Trump said.