WASHINGTON, Jan 21 – A U.S. government shutdown
will enter its third day on Monday as Senate negotiators failed
to reach agreement late on Sunday to restore federal spending
authority and deal with demands from Democrats that young
“Dreamers” be protected from deportation.
The Senate set a vote for 12 p.m. (1700 GMT) on Monday on
advancing a measure to provide temporary government funding
through Feb. 8, end the shutdown and allow hundreds of thousands
of federal employees to return to work.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell offered an olive
branch to Democrats late on Sunday, pledging on the Senate floor
to bring immigration legislation up for debate in February if
the issue is still unresolved by then.
At the core of Democrats’ demands is the fate of young
people, known as Dreamers, who were brought to the country
illegally as children. Former Democratic President Barack
Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program
extended legal protections to about 700,000 of them, shielding
them from being deported.
“It would be my intention to proceed to legislation that
would address DACA, border security and related issues,”
McConnell said, adding: “It is also my intention take up
legislation on increased defense spending, disaster relief and
other important matters” then.
It was unclear whether there would be enough Democratic
votes on Monday to advance a temporary spending bill.
Funding for federal agencies ran out at midnight on Friday
amid an impasse between President Donald Trump, congressional
Republicans and Democrats over DACA and other immigration
Democrats want Trump, who last year ordered an end to DACA
in March, to live up to an earlier agreement to protect the
Dreamers. Democrats refused last week to support another
short-term government funding extension.
Republican Senator Jeff Flake, part of a bipartisan working
group pushing for legislation to replace DACA, told reporters
that McConnell was still six or seven Democratic votes short of
breaking the impasse that led to the shutdown.
Flake said negotiations would resume early on Monday leading
up to the midday vote on the Senate floor.
‘BITE PRETTY HARD’
While public reaction to the shutdown may have been muted
over the weekend, Flake said Republicans would suffer
politically in the long run. “If it comes back to bite, it comes
back to bite pretty hard,” the Arizona senator predicted.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer objected to a move by
McConnell to speed up the vote on a temporary funding bill that
had been set for 1 a.m. (0600 GMT) on Monday, signalling that a
deal was still not in hand.
In vowing to bring immigration legislation to the Senate
floor next month, McConnell shifted from an earlier position,
saying earlier he would do that this month only if there were a
bipartisan deal backed by Trump.
The Republican president has vacillated on what sort of
legislation he supports and McConnell now seems willing to let
the Senate craft a deal on legal protections for Dreamers and
beefing up immigration enforcement at U.S. borders.
The hope is that if the Senate passes an immigration bill,
Trump would not only support it but help sell it to the more
conservative House of Representatives.
“We will not negotiate on the status of unlawful immigrants
while Senator Schumer and the Democrats hold the government for
millions of Americans and our troops hostage,” White House press
secretary Sarah Sanders said.
Despite that statement, it was clear that senators were
seeking paths both to reopen the government and address border
security and the Dreamers.
Last September, Trump said he was terminating DACA and
challenged Congress to come up with a legislative replacement by
March 5. If Congress fails, the Dreamers, many from Mexico and
Central America, could face deportation. Many have spent most of
their lives in the United States.
FIRST SHUTDOWN SINCE 2013
The shutdown is the first since a 16-day closure in October
2013 and its effects will be more visible on Monday, when
financial markets and federal offices open.
The White House said Trump’s planned trip to the World
Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week was in flux
because of the standoff on Capitol Hill.
With elections set for November for a third of U.S. Senate
seats and the entire House of Representatives, both sides are
manoeuvring to blame the other for the shutdown.
In a Senate floor speech on Sunday, McConnell accused
Schumer of imperilling children’s healthcare, military training,
veterans’ care and other programs.
Schumer and his colleagues accused Trump of being an
unreliable negotiating partner, saying the two sides came close
to a deal on immigration several times, only to have Trump back
out under pressure from anti-immigration conservatives.
Since Democratic votes are needed in the Senate to pass
spending bills, they are in a position to make demands on
immigration before signing off on such a spending increase.