Bipartisan Group of Senators Hoping for Breakthrough on Shutdown

Group of 20 presenting options to break stalemate to leaders

From left, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., leave a meeting in Sen. Susan Collins’s office with other Senate moderates as they try to find a way to end the government shutdown on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

There is growing optimism that the Senate will be able to muster the votes necessary to advance a three-week funding measure to reopen the federal government, Republican and Democratic aides and lawmakers say.

The deal is a central discussion of a coalition of roughly 20 bipartisan members that have been meeting Saturday and Sunday. The group is discussing the offer with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. 

According to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., all issues are on the table. “Sen. McConnell is saying we’re going to do all issues, including immigration, which is a major issue,” Graham said outside the room where the bipartisan group met.

“Progress, making progress,” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander also noted “progress” but wouldn’t provide details: “We’ll know more in two hours,” he said around 3 p.m. Sunday after a bipartisan meeting of approximately 20 lawmakers dispersed.

“The leaders have to meet with each other ... Mitch knows my thinking on it,” Alexander added.

Such a meeting was apparently imminent, according to Sen. Angus King, I-Maine. “Ultimately the leaders are going to have to make their own decision, but I think they have some options,” King said.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said what’s needed from leadership is “a commitment to take up immigration.”

Regarding how much of a commitment they would need to see from the House, Kaine said, “We’re working to get as much comfort as we can, we’ll see how far we get,” adding, “I don’t know that you’re going to see the final deal but you might see a comfort level that may enable us to move forward.”

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said of what the group is taking to leaders: “Yeah, just a thought in terms of the concept of how we move the ball down the road, get past the current stalemate that we’re in and make some progress on the immigration issues that everybody’s concerned about.”

“I think it’s fair to say that we are continuing discussions....we’ve got a hard stop later this evening with a vote,” Sen Lisa Murkowski of Alaska added in an impromptu press conference.

“There are discussions today with opportunities for compromise yet tonight,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said.

Democratic support for the measure would be partially contingent on a future vote on a bill to address the pending expiration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, according to individuals with knowledge of the discussion.

A McConnell spokesman had no updates to provide.

Despite some Democratic aides saying they believe the deal would get the required 60 votes on the Senate floor to advance, a senior Democratic aide on Sunday insisted the support is not there.

If Democrats continue to object to a time agreement on the cloture vote for the three-week stopgap, that vote is expected to be held at 1 a.m. on Monday.

“This shutdown’s going get a lot worse tomorrow,” McConnell said Sunday on the Senate floor. “We could resolve this much earlier if the Democratic leader withdraws his procedural objection.”

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn on Texas suggested the chamber would hold multiple votes on various immigration measures in the near future.

“I’m sure we will have that week of votes on DACA and on immigration at some point before the deadline,” Cornyn said.

When asked about his optimism that a vote on a three-week continuing resolution would pass, Cornyn said the bipartisan meetings indicate “that people aren’t necessarily happy with where we are and they’re looking for some alternatives.”

A group of Republican members have been meeting separately over the weekend to come up with a compromise DACA bill that could be introduced as early as Monday.

That measure will run up against a separate proposal from Graham and Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois.

Jennifer Shutt contributed to this report.

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