WASHINGTON (TNS) — The Senate on Thursday voted down competing proposals to reopen the government, ensuring the increasingly bitter monthlong stalemate over President Donald Trump's wall along the southern border will extend until next week.
The votes — the first the Senate has held since the partial government shutdown began Dec. 22 — fell largely along partisan lines, but with a few notable defections on both sides. Neither proposal got the 60 votes required.
Democrats led the rejection of a plan outlined by Trump over the weekend that would pair border wall funding with temporary protections for some immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. It failed 50-47.
Then Republicans ensured defeat of the Democrats' proposal to temporarily reopen government with no funding for a wall. It failed 52-44.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was the only Democrat to vote in favor of Trump's plan, while two Republicans, Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Mike Lee of Utah, voted against it.
Six Republicans voted in favor of the Democrats' plan: Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine, Cory Gardner of Colorado, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mitt Romney of Utah. No Democrats voted against it.
U.S. senators from Kansas voted in line with the president Thursday.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he was glad to support the GOP plan as a way of moving the immigration debate forward.
"We must negotiate in good faith before further damage is done to our economy and to the people unfairly caught in the partisan crosshairs,” Roberts said.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said the GOP plan offered solutions for people on both sides of the aisle, including protections for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The Democrat plan, Moran said, had no chance of being signed by the president.
“It is wrong that so many suffer because of political infighting and dysfunction in Washington," Moran said. "Congress must pass a funding bill that the president will sign so we can return to a fully functioning federal government for our federal workers, farmers and ranchers, and the numerous individuals and businesses who are harmed by this shutdown.”
Even though the Democratic measure proved more popular in the GOP-controlled Senate, Trump praised Republicans "for holding" together.
Senators and House members both planned to leave Washington on Thursday with no clear path forward on how to end the standoff.
But there were signs that both sides may be more willing to compromise. Trump backed off his demand to hold the State of the Union address in the House chamber next week after Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said it must be postponed until the government reopens.
House Democrats are preparing to release a proposal for more than $5 billion in border security measures — but no wall — to restart negotiations, only after the government is reopened.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York met briefly after the votes failed. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said they were discussing a three-week funding bill that Trump could support.
But the White House said it would accept the compromise only if it included a "large down payment" on the wall, a likely deal-breaker for Democrats.
Trump told reporters in the Oval Office he would support a "reasonable agreement" from McConnell and Schumer, but would not directly answer whether that deal would have to include wall funding.
"I have other alternatives, if I have to," he said. "We have to have the wall."
Just the fact that the Senate held votes gave some lawmakers reason to be optimistic.
"I think that's a hopeful sign in light of the fact that we haven't done anything up to this point," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. "There is a growing sentiment (by Republicans and Democrats) that the Senate will have to lead on this."
Several Republican lawmakers said they might try to build off of Trump's plan — a pairing of immigration and border security proposals. But Democrats would be likely to join in only if the government were reopened first. Many lawmakers fear that the politics of the shutdown is getting too tenuous to continue.
"Both the president and the speaker have to figure out that they're losing," said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo. "And frankly, I think they should both have figured that out by now."
Manchin said his top concern was reopening the government. "(T)hese votes are a start to finding a way to reopen the gov & get (West Virginians) back to work," he said on Twitter.
Until recently, McConnell, who controls the Senate floor and has played a key role in nearly every major bipartisan legislative proposal over the last decade, had largely tried to stay out of the negotiations over the shutdown. But he embraced the Trump plan as a way out.
"It's time to make a deal," he said Wednesday. "Enough political spite. Enough showboating for 'the Resistance.' Enough refusing to join in talks and then complaining you weren't consulted."
Democrats blame Trump for refusing to reopen the government unless he receives billions of taxpayer dollars for a border wall that he previously promised Mexico would fund.
While Democrats have embraced the idea of granting protections to so-called Dreamers, they say Trump's plan is not a permanent solution and would hurt those seeking asylum from Central American countries.
They want to fund the government on a temporary basis while negotiating a border plan. "It simply reopens the government for three weeks and allows us to continue debating border security," Schumer said. "There is nothing partisan about" it.
The Senate approved a similar measure in December with the understanding that Trump would sign it into law. He reversed course, insisting that Congress pass a spending bill that included the wall funding.
As more federal workers struggle without their pay, Democrats accused Trump administration officials of being out of touch. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a billionaire, said on CNBC that he didn't understand why federal workers — who will miss a second paycheck Friday — had to go to food banks.
"The 30 days of pay that some people will be out, there's no real reason why they shouldn't be able to get a loan against it," he said.
Asked a day earlier about the 800,000 unpaid federal employees, Lara Trump, the president's daughter-in-law, said, "This is so much bigger than any one person. It is a little bit of pain, but it's going to be for the future of our country."
Both the Democratic and Republican measures considered Thursday included disaster aid to address the California fires and hurricanes in Florida and Texas.
Even the failed votes were viewed by some as a sign of progress. In the past, McConnell has used Senate votes that he knows will fail to send a message to the public and the White House about what he is realistically able to get through his chamber. Thursday's votes could play that role.
Meanwhile, the Democratic-controlled House has voted nearly a dozen times for measures to reopen the government, whether all of the shuttered agencies or a single one. Several moderate Republicans have crossed the aisle to support those measures, including 10 on Wednesday.
Sherman Smith of the Topeka Capital-Journal contributed to this story.