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Stuck On Border Wall Funding, Government Creeps Closer To Shutdown

Dec 21, 2018
Originally published on December 21, 2018 6:51 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Time is running out. A partial government shutdown is just a few hours away. Last night, the House passed a funding bill that includes $5 billion for a border wall and then sent it over to the Senate. Here's how Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee described the state of play on the Senate floor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BOB CORKER: We're not voting on anything else in this chamber relative to this issue until a global agreement has been reached between the president and these two leaders and the leader of the House.

CHANG: A global agreement - that means there won't be any more votes until that global agreement is reached. It's not clear what happens next. And NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us now for the latest. Hey, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So what is going on right now?

DAVIS: There's a rather familiar drama playing out at the moment. The Senate did hold open a vote for several hours to finally clear a procedural vote. All that does is give Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell maximum flexibility to try and cut a deal. There is still no bill on the table. And as the leader said on the floor just now, anything is going to need to be able to clear a 60-vote hurdle in the Senate and have a guarantee from President Trump that he will sign it when it gets to his desk.

CHANG: Right. So what are the options on the table right now?

DAVIS: The White House sent up Vice President Mike Pence and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. They have been ping-ponging back and forth between the House and Senate, meeting with leaders and members of various factions to see if they can cut a deal. I would say there has been a slight shift in the tone in the building.

CHANG: Oh, really?

DAVIS: I think there is a slight shift towards optimism that they could find a new path forward. I think what that may require is someone's going to have to blink. Either Republicans are going to have to acknowledge they're not going to get the wall money they want, or Democrats are going to have to agree to some pot of money that can go to the border that the president will be able to say is securing the border - potentially building a new wall, new structures, some kind of border security.

I think there is at least hope that there is a middle ground here, I think in no small part because of the timing, right? We are right on the eve of the Christmas holiday. A lot of people want to get home. And while it is still entirely possible the government's should - shut - going to shut down in about six hours, I think there may be a path forward still.

CHANG: But someone still has to blink. OK. So do we have any sense of how long this could last if there is a shutdown?

DAVIS: This is what party leaders in both parties are telling their members. They're saying, don't go home for Christmas. Even if there is a shutdown, you better plan on getting on an airplane and coming back here to figure it out (laughter).

CHANG: (Laughter).

DAVIS: But remember, this - if they don't get a deal now, the expectation if there is a shutdown, it would most likely last through the Christmas holiday. And part of that is the dynamic in Capitol Hill and in Washington is going to change entirely on January 3 when Democrats are going to take control of the House. And they may just be waiting it out to see if, at that point, the new leadership can cut a deal with the president, and Republicans can say they fought to the very end to get the wall.

I will say there's also a slight bit of humor going on, at least in terms of what you might consider humor in the Senate. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski - many senators have had to travel a long way back to Washington to vote...

CHANG: Oh, yeah.

DAVIS: ...Is passing out holiday buttons on the Senate floor that say Senate Cranky Coalition.

CHANG: (Laughter).

DAVIS: And I can report to you that almost all senators are wearing those buttons at this point in time.

CHANG: I can imagine there are a lot of cranky senators. That's NPR's Sue Davis. Thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.