House Passes Stopgap Spending Bill to End Government Shutdown

Enough Democrats voted ‘yes’ to offset Republican defections

The House followed the Senate in voting for a sweeping package that keeps the government open until at least March 23. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
The House followed the Senate in voting for a sweeping package that keeps the government open until at least March 23. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 9, 2018 at 5:34am

The House early Friday morning passed a six-week stopgap spending bill carrying a massive budget deal, ending a less-than-six-hour government shutdown without Speaker Paul D. Ryan providing Democrats the exact commitment they were seeking on an immigration vote.

President Donald Trump will sign the measure Friday morning, spokesman Raj Shah said without specifying a time. 

Enough Democrats —73 of them — voted “yes” to offset the 67 Republican defections on the bill to get it over the finish line. The final vote was 240-186, with 167 Republicans voting “yes” and 119 Democrats voting “no.”

The Democrats who voted “no”, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, were taking a stand for so-called Dreamers, young undocumented immigrants brought to U.S. as children who are facing the prospect of deportation without legislation to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

Watch: Rand Paul Objects to Expedited Vote on Budget Package

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“Nobody wants a shutdown,” the minority leader said on the floor before the vote. “And this is a good bill. … But give us a chance to allay the fear that is in the hearts of these Dreamers and their families.”

Pelosi and many in her caucus had withheld support for the measure in an attempt to get Ryan to agree to a floor vote on the DACA issue, allowing both bipartisan and conservative immigration bills to be debated under a rule known as “queen of the hill.”

The process would allow the measure that receives the most votes above the required simple-majority threshold to prevail as the House-passed product.

Ryan did not give in to the Democrats’ demand, saying he is committed to holding a DACA vote but only on a bill that has Trump’s support as he doesn’t see a point in risking a veto.

“My commitment to working together on an immigration [measure] we can make law is a sincere commitment,” Ryan said on the floor before the vote. “We will solve this DACA problem.”

The continuing resolution the House passed Friday will keep the government open through March 23, by which time Congress hopes to pass an omnibus spending bill with full appropriations for the remainder of fiscal 2018. At that point, the fiscal year will be nearly halfway over.

Attached to the CR is language raising the sequestration budget caps for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 by a total of $296 billion, suspending the debt ceiling until March 2019 and approving an additional $90 billion in disaster relief, among a host of other policy provisions.

‘Best play call’

The early morning vote wasn’t without some drama, as Democratic leaders tried to have their members wait to cast their votes until the time expired, although a few dozen Democrats didn’t wait. When the clock reached zero the “yes” votes quickly ticked up from just under 180 to 240 before the gavel came down.

GOP leaders were calm throughout, a sign of their confidence that Democrats were bluffing about their level of opposition and not actually prepared to shut down the government for a second time this year over DACA.

“This was the best play call we could have made,” Chief Deputy Whip Patrick McHenry said. “We didn’t blink when they’re trying to play a game.

“And even Leader Pelosi’s close didn’t have any cohesive message,” the North Carolina Republican added. “She negotiated the deal, her team was in on it, she acknowledges it, she says they have wins in it and they were a ‘no.’ And at the end, her team broke.”

McHenry called the Democratic caucus “fractured,” a word that has been more often used to describe House Republicans. But on this vote the GOP was more united than it typically is.

“I see Republicans producing a bigger number than we have on big agreements traditionally, especially since 2010 taking the majority,” McHenry said. “I feel like this is a bold move, and the difference maker is the White House and the president.”

Democrats “ripping themselves apart” over a bipartisan agreement with wins for their party “doesn’t make any damn sense,” McHenry said.

Democrat divisions

Some Democrats, too, felt their caucus’s strategy was misguided.

Despite 62 percent of the caucus voting against the bill, there were varying degrees of opposition.

“Some people passionately believed this was the point of leverage and an enormous mistake to miss it, to not use,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, one of the “yes” votes, said. “Others believed it was more of a symbolic vote to show solidarity with colleagues and with the Dreamers generally. Others thought it was just part of, sort of a liberal litmus test that the base wants to see and hear, and that’s a safe vote, depending on your district.”

The Virginia Democrat said that Pelosi could have whipped against the bill harder if she had truly wanted it to fail and had she done so the number of yes votes in the caucus would have been smaller. But she sent plenty of public signals she wanted the bill to pass, Connolly said.

“Nancy just spoke and then read pages of encomium to the bill,” he said.

Some other Democrats, like Illinois Rep. Raja Kirshnamoorthi, believed the caucus’ opposition was going to be enough to block the bill. He said it wasn’t clear to him until the floor vote that the measure would pass.

But Kirshnamoorthi acknowledged there were divisions in the caucus and he had opponents and proponents asking him to vote their way.  

“I was getting whipped every which way at this point,” he said. “At one point I got whipped so hard that the person in question didn’t know that the vote was actually up, so we almost missed the vote.”

While noting he did have concerns about the amount of deficit spending in the bill, Kirshnamoorthi said he probably would’ve voted “yes” if Ryan had offered a more specific commitment for a DACA vote.

“He went almost there. He said on the floor, ‘I’ll take care of the Dreamers.’ He didn’t say, ‘I’m going to commit to a vote.’ And I think he would have with just a little more time,” Kirshnamoorthi said.

Connolly had a different take on Ryan’s speech.

“My experience with Paul Ryan is I don’t agree with him, I think he has challenges in his own caucus, I wouldn’t call him the strongest speaker in my memory, but he is an honorable man,” he said. “And I took his words at face value that he wants to solve the DACA problem and that we will address it once this bill was behind us.”