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Senate Sets Votes On 2 Bills That Could End Shutdown — But Both Expected To Fail

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is trailed by reporters after speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday.
Win McNamee
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is trailed by reporters after speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday.

Updated on Jan. 23 at 6:45 p.m. ET

The Senate is set to consider two competing proposals Thursday that could reopen the government — but probably won't.

Republicans are planning a vote on President Trump's proposal to end the stalemate. But Democrats are reiterating that his offer — with $5.7 billion for a border wall in exchange for temporary protections for those under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and temporary protected status programs — is a nonstarter, meaning there's no realistic end yet in sight for the shutdown.

It's doubtful Trump's plan could reach the 60 votes it needs in the Senate, and if it did, the bill would likely be dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled House.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also agreed to vote Thursday on a spending package that reopens the government through Feb. 8 without additional money the administration wants for Trump's wall, but with some added disaster relief money. That measure is all but certain to fail in the GOP-controlled Senate.

McConnell hailed Trump's plan on Tuesday as a bipartisan deal that Democrats should accept, saying that "the opportunity to end all of this is staring us right in the face."

"This is the only proposal that can be signed by the president and immediately reopen the government," McConnell said.

Trump unveiled his offer on Saturday — $5.7 billion for the wall along the Mexican border he has demanded, in return for three-year protections for some 700,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children and roughly 300,000 immigrants fleeing political unrest. It also includes disaster funding and would fully fund the shuttered government agencies through this fiscal year.

Schumer made clear Trump's offer wasn't palatable, saying on the Senate floor Tuesday that it was "one-sided, harshly partisan and was made in bad faith."

The top Senate Democrat also compared Trump's offer to "hostage-taking" instead of a compromise, given that it was the president who rolled back protections for both DACA and TPS. He also pointed out that the provisions Trump outlined for the DACA program are narrower than the bipartisan Senate proposal the White House said was the basis for that part of the bill, and he called new provisions regarding rules governing the process to apply for asylum "a poison pill."

"Now offering some temporary protections back in exchange for the wall is not a compromise — it's a hostage situation," Schumer said on the Senate floor.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., told NPR's Morning Edition that Democrats are largely united behind reopening the government and then proceeding with negotiations on border security.

"We want to discredit the use of government shutdown as a negotiating tactic," Kaine said. "If we give in to that kind of a tactic, using massive swaths of the American government, federal workers and American citizens as leverage, you can be sure this president will turn to that again and again and again every time he doesn't get his way."

About 800,000 government workers employed by the departments of Homeland Security, Commerce, Interior, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, and Transportation are affected by the partial government shutdown, either being furloughed completely or working without pay.

Those workers have already missed one paycheck and are slated to miss another this week. Many employees live paycheck to paycheck, and the financial strain is great — and also starting to have growing real-world implications for nongovernment workers. For example, 10 percent of Transportation Security Administration workers called in sick over the weekend, saying they couldn't report to work because of financial limitations.

And the FBI Agents Association released a 72-page report detailing how not just agents and their families had been harmed by the shutdown but how national security has been jeopardized too, citing anonymous quotes from dozens of agents across the country.

"The shutdown has eliminated any ability to operate. ... It's bad enough to work without pay, but we can only conduct administrative functions while doing it. The fear is our enemies know they can run freely," said one agent described as someone who is working in "both overt and undercover counter-intelligence matters against a top threat to national security."

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow argued to reporters that there would be an "immediate snapback" in the U.S. economy after the government reopens, but that administration officials also understand the pain that many federal workers are experiencing.

"I don't want to belittle it. No one likes the hardship that people are having to shoulder, I understand that, including myself," said Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council. "I have young people on my staff who are concerned, so I get that."

NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell and NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley contributed to this report.

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Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.
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