WASHINGTON ― Democrats took back the House on Thursday, electing Nancy Pelosi to be speaker and quickly passing legislation to reopen closed government agencies. But those efforts to end the shutdown are going nowhere fast, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowing to block the bill and President Donald Trump saying he would veto it.
The partial government shutdown is about to hit its two-week anniversary, and even with Democrats now controlling one chamber of Congress, there’s no sign of any deal.
Democrats are more determined than ever not to give Trump a single dollar for his border wall, and Trump hasn’t moved off his full request of $5.6 billion for construction of some kind of physical barrier. (There’s an ongoing semantics battle over “border security,” “steel slats,” “fencing,” and a “wall” that could ultimately be key to ending the shutdown.)
There’s also the possibility that lawmakers return to an old deal, trading wall money for an extension of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals immigration program. Sean Hannity, a close confidant of the president, floated that idea on his TV show Thursday night, but Democrats have also said they now wouldn’t accept that deal, partly because they don’t trust Trump to hold up his end of the bargain.
A DACA deal still could be the way out of the shutdown, if Democrats decided to trust Trump. Democratic and Republican congressional leaders are set to attend another White House meeting with Trump on Friday. If past meetings are any indication, however, everyone will walk away from the meeting firmer in their resolve not to give an inch.
On Thursday, House Democrats passed two bills that would end the shutdown: a roughly month-long extension for the Department of Homeland Security that would allow both sides to continue negotiating on a wall, and another larger bill that would fund all shuttered agencies until October.
The short-term bill for DHS passed the House 239-192, with five Republicans breaking ranks to join all Democrats in support of the bill.
The House also passed a bill to reopen the handful of other unfunded agencies. That bill passed 241-190, with seven Republicans joining Democrats to vote yes.
The Republican defections ― contrasted with Democratic unity ― are the first signs of the GOP cracking under the pressure of the shutdown.
Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who’s up for re-election in 2020 in his increasingly blue state, also said Thursday that he supports passing a continuing resolution to reopen the government.
But aside from a few Republicans, the GOP is digging in. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) ― a member who speaks with Trump on a regular basis ― told HuffPost on Thursday that the shutdown wouldn’t end until Democrats approved wall money. “I mean, there’s a wall between Tijuana and San Diego, right? If it’s so bad or immoral as they say, you’d think they’d be willing to tear them down,” Jordan said.
Jordan is unlikely to vote for any proposal that doesn’t include Trump’s full request, but one of the byproducts of Democrats taking back the House is that Jordan’s vote is irrelevant. As Democrats proved Thursday night, they have the votes to reopen the government. They just need the Senate to act and the president to sign it ― two things that remain unlikely.
McConnell once again vowed Thursday not to bring up the House-passed legislation, calling the bills that passed the Senate unanimously two weeks ago a “waste of time.” He says he won’t allow a vote on anything “that does not have a real chance of passing this chamber and getting a presidential signature.”
Leaving aside whether a bill that passed unanimously two weeks ago doesn’t have a real chance of passing, the House and Senate could always override Trump’s veto, but that would require a significant number of Republicans to break ranks ― more than two dozen in the Senate and around 50 in the House.
Politically, that’s a tall order for the GOP, a party that seems to value fealty to Trump above all else.
But the realities of the shutdown are just starting to hit. There are roughly 400,000 federal workers who have been furloughed, and another 400,000 who are simply working without pay. If the shutdown stretches on for another week ― looking more likely by the day ― it will be the longest government shutdown in history, over a $5 billion dispute in a $4.4 trillion budget.
For Democrats, however, the wall has become much more than a line item. It’s almost a representation of Trump’s entire legacy, all of his policies and empty promises. Democrats don’t want to give in to Trump on that, particularly after his negotiating style has been to just demand that Democrats give him what he wants.
“We’re not doing the wall,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday night. “Does anybody have any doubt? We’re not doing the wall.”