WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer met with President Donald Trump at the White House on Friday (Jan 19) to search for ways to avert a US government shutdown, but Schumer said afterward that disagreements remained as the clock ticked toward a midnight deadline to pass a funding Bill.
Trump invited Schumer to the White House as a stopgap bill to fund the federal government through Feb 16 appeared on the verge of collapse in the Senate, where Democratic votes are needed to pass it.
“We had a long and detailed meeting,” Schumer told reporters on his return to the US Capitol after the approximately 90-minute meeting. The chiefs of staff for each man – John Kelly for Trump and Mike Lynch for Schumer – also attended.
“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,” Schumer said.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved the stopgap spending measure late on Thursday, but it has been sidetracked in the Senate by a dispute over immigration. The House had planned to recess later on Friday for a weeklong break but members were warned they could be called back for votes.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said on Thursday he was ratcheting up the likelihood of a government shutdown from 30 per cent to a 50-50 possibility.
The showdown follows months of struggle in Congress to agree on government funding levels and the immigration issue. The federal government is operating on a third temporary funding measure since the new fiscal year began in October.
Democrats have demanded the Bill include protections from deportation for 700,000 young undocumented immigrants. Those children, known as “Dreamers,” were brought into the United States as children, largely from Mexico and Central America, and given temporary legal status under a programme started by former President Barack Obama. Many have been educated in the United States and know no other country.
In September, Trump announced he was ending the programme and giving Congress until March 5 to come up with a legislative replacement.
Leaders of both parties blamed each other for the impasse.
“Now that we’re 13 hours away from a government shutdown that Democrats would initiate and Democrats would own, the craziness of this seems to be dawning on my friend the Democratic leader,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said, referring to Schumer.
'DON’T TURN YOUR BACK'
Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said Republicans needed to sit down and negotiate and called on House Republicans not to leave town until the crisis was averted.
“I would beg them, don’t turn your back on your responsibility right here in Washington to work with us, to try to find a way forward,” Durbin said.
Trump, on the eve of the first anniversary of his inauguration, said in a morning tweet that Democrats were holding up a resolution over the immigration issue.
“Democrats are needed if it is to pass in the Senate – but they want illegal immigration and weak borders. Shutdown coming?” he said.
Democratic Senator Tim Kaine told reporters that lawmakers were close to a longer-term deal and should not pass another 30-day funding measure.
“We can get there, we’re close enough we can get there if we just stay on it,” he said. “I think we can get one in the next few days.”
Republican Senator Tom Cotton said he was willing to provide protection to Daca recipients in future negotiations.
“We have another six weeks to solve that problem. It doesn’t really involve government funding,” he told Fox News Channel.“We should take those two issues up in sequence.”
Republicans have a 51-49 majority in the Senate, but with Senator John McCain undergoing cancer treatment at home in Arizona they need at least 10 Democrats to reach the 60 votes required to pass a spending Bill. In addition to strong Democratic opposition, at least three Republican senators have said they will not back the resolution in its current form.
Republican Senator Mike Rounds, who had earlier said he could not back the Bill, on Friday said in a statement that while the measure was “not ideal,” he would support it after being assured that other legislation to adequately fund the US military would be raised soon.
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has indicated he was leaning in favour of the stopgap measure. Manchin is one of 10 Democrats up for re-election this year in states Trump won in the 2016 presidential election.
When the government shuts down, which has only happened three times in a meaningful way since 1995, hundreds of thousands of “non-essential” federal workers may be put on furlough, while “essential” employees, dealing with public safety and national security, would keep working.
Amid the deadlock, more senators were raising the possibility of merely approving enough new federal funds for a few days. The idea is to put pressure on negotiators to then cut deals on immigration, defense spending and non-defense funding by next week.
But McConnell shot down that plan on Friday.
“Let’s fund the government for a full month so we can actually get something done” and negotiate other issues including immigration, he said.