Partial Government Shutdown to Continue Until after Christmas

Political Connection
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The Senate adjourned for the day Saturday afternoon without coming to an agreement on a spending deal that would end a partial government shutdown — guaranteeing the federal closures will continue until after Christmas.

The developments come hours after members of Congress and President Donald Trump were unable to reach an agreement Friday night, resulting in the third government shutdown of the year.

There will be a pro forma Senate session on Monday, but the next actual session is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on the Senate floor earlier Saturday that there would be no action on the floor until Trump and Senate Democrats come to an agreement.

McConnell said the Senate was, in the meantime, pushing “the pause button” while the two parties attempt to work out a deal.

He then began discussing the importance of border security and “securing the homeland.”

Later in the day, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer addressed Trump while speaking on the Senate floor, saying, “President Trump, if you want to open the government, you must abandon the wall — plain and simple.”

During his speech, Schumer said Trump must publicly say he will support any agreement in an effort to avoid what happened earlier in the week, when White House aides indicated Trump would sign a stopgap spending measure, but then later said he would not.

Schumer also responded to McConnell’s earlier comments that an agreement would need to be made between both Trump and Senate Democrats.

Schumer said McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan must also support any deal publicly.

“Leader McConnell can’t duck out of it,” Schumer said.

On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence, budget director Mick Mulvaney and the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, came to Capitol Hill, where they stayed into the evening after both the House and Senate adjourned for the night.

Pence returned to Capitol Hill on Saturday, where he was set to meet with Schumer.

The vice president was expected to give a readout of a White House lunch Trump held with some conservative House Freedom Caucus members and other Republican lawmakers. Schumer was expected to reiterate that border wall money can’t pass the Senate, a Schumer aide said.

Any bill to re-open the government will need 60 votes to pass the Senate because of procedural rules, meaning Republicans will need some Democratic votes.

Funding for roughly a quarter of the federal government expired at midnight, including appropriations for the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Housing and Urban Development and other parts of the government. This is the first time in 40 years that the government will have been closed three times in a year.

The funding legislation that earlier this week seemed certain to pass both chambers was thrown into limbo on Thursday when Trump told House GOP members he would not sign a bill unless it included $5 billion to fund a border wall.

Despite the House of Representatives passing a bill on Thursday, which included this demand, it was clear on Friday that there was not enough support in the Senate for the bill, including the $5 billion for the wall, to clear.

Friday night, a path forward appeared ambiguous, as all sides seemed stagnant in their demands days before the Christmas holiday, when Congress was expected to be out of session.

Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, who was briefed by Pence, Kushner and Mulvaney on Friday, told CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux on Saturday morning that the hope is McConnell will have a deal to announce when the Senate reconvenes at noon.

The debate between the White House and Congress focuses not just on how much money to allocate to border security, but also on the language stipulating where and how that money can be spent, he said.

“What is fencing, what is land ports of entry, what’s technology, what’s staffing?” Lankford said. “I think there’s a general agreement … that we need to do border security. Now’s figuring out how much for each amount.”

“Right now we’re trying to finalize all the final text and to be able to make sure everyone’s looked at it, everyone’s agreed, signed off on it. …” he said. “Then we’ll move to a vote 24 hours from there.”

Lankford also said he is “confident” that if Pence says the President is on board with any deal, Trump will keep to his word.

“We’ve agreed in the Senate we’re not bringing anything to the floor until we know all three bodies have agreed to it,” Lankford said. “Then we can expedite it through the process on the floor.”

If there’s no an agreement, Lankford said he believes the American people will be looking at a much longer shutdown.

A Senate Democratic aide said Saturday that talks continue at the staff level and confirmed that any deal will need signoff from congressional leadership and Trump before it comes to a vote. Democrats continue to push for border security options that they believe work, rather than a wall. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has insisted to Pence and Republicans that the President must sign off on that before a vote.

Trump earlier on Friday predicted a shut down, but placed the blame on Democrats, saying “it’s really the Democrat shutdown, because we’ve done our thing.

“The chances are probably very good” that there is a shutdown,” Trump said Friday afternoon.

He later added: “Now it’s up to the Democrats as to whether we have a shutdown tonight. I hope we don’t, but we’re totally prepared for a very long shutdown.”

And in a White House-produced video posted on Twitter two hours before the government was partially closed, Trump said, “We’re going to have a shutdown. There’s nothing we can do about that because we need the Democrats to give us their votes.” He added, “The shutdown hopefully will not last long.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Schumer threw the blame back at Trump and Republican lawmakers in a joint statement shortly after midnight, saying if “this Trump shutdown” continued, “the new House Democratic majority will swiftly pass legislation to re-open government in January.”

When he appeared to be leaving on Friday night, however, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said “constructive talks are underway.”

When he was asked if he would be coming back to participate in the talks, the Kentucky Republican said, “as I’ve said repeatedly, we need Democratic votes and presidential signature.”

A person familiar with Pence, Kushner and Mulvaney’s five-hour trip to the Capitol said they made it clear that the initial request that included just $1.6 billion for the wall wasn’t going to cut it.

“There is no quick end to this,” said one source with direct knowledge of the talks.

If a deal is to be reached, votes could happen as early as Sunday.

What a Government Shutdown Means for You

Holiday travel will go on

Planning to take a plane or train to your holiday destination?

The Transportation Security Administration will be on the job to screen passengers, and Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers will be directing planes.

Amtrak, a federally owned corporation rather than a government agency, will be open. Federal Railroad Administration inspectors will also continue to work. According to the railroad administration’s shutdown plans: “Data shows that when Inspectors are not visible, less compliance is more likely to occur, which may lead to higher accident/incident rate.”

US Customs and Border Protection checkpoints will remain open for international travelers.

TSA Administrator David Pekoske pointed out that federal employees who are required to work during a shutdown will eventually be paid, but not until the government reopens.

“But we’re certainly hoping that there is no shutdown,” he told reporters this week.

Have international travel in your future?  The State Department will continue processing passports.

Christmas gifts will arrive on time

If you shipped them on time, that is.

The Postal Service does not receive federal funds for its operations and will not be affected by a government shutdown. It expects to deliver nearly 16 billion pieces of mail and packages this season. Post offices will close at noon on Christmas Eve as planned.

Law enforcement and safety continue

Federal employees who keep people safe or protect property must typically report to work during a shutdown.

That means many law enforcement officers will keep their schedules.

It also means the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will keep mission controllers on hand to support astronauts on the International Space Station but will close NASA facilities to visitors and suspend some research projects.

Safety inspectors — such as the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management and the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration officials, who monitor oil pipelines like the Trans-Alaska Pipeline — will continue their work.

It’s a similar story at the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety Inspection Services, which inspects meat and poultry, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which will keep a bare-bones team to consider potential recalls of products that “create a substantial and immediate threat to the safety of human life.”

Forecasters at the National Weather Service, which is part of the Commerce Department, and earthquake monitors at the US Geological Survey, part of the Department of the Interior, will stay on the job, too.

Although the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security are among the parts of the government that will not remain funded if the shutdown occurs, much of these agencies will remain open because they provide security functions.

At Justice, large parts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives,  the Bureau of Prisons and US attorneys’ offices will remain open. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office will remain open as well, because it is funded with a permanent indefinite appropriation, according to the agency’s shutdown plan.

At the Department of Homeland Security, about 55,000 Customs and Border Protection employees, about 55,000 Transportation Security Administration workers, about 44,000 Coast Guard employees, about 6,000 Secret Service employees and about 17,600 US Citizenship and Immigration Services workers will remain on the job through a shutdown.

Support staff, such as IT workers, necessary to support those whose work is essential will also be called in.

When would federal workers see the effects?

The holiday season is likely the worst time for federal workers at the nine departments.

While they will be paid for work performed before the shutdown, paychecks will not be cut while government agencies are closed. In past government shutdowns, Congress has often passed a bill to back-pay furloughed federal employees for the time they were not paid during the shutdown, but that is never a guarantee. Congress would have to pass a similar measure for furloughed federal employees to receive money lost during this shutdown. Contractors who work for the federal government may not be so lucky.

Office of Management and Budget guidelines also call for canceling paid vacation time that was scheduled over the holidays — meaning many federal workers who took time off may see smaller paychecks.

The government would still process employee paychecks for the pay period ending on Saturday, although it wouldn’t include pay for that day, because of the shutdown on Friday night. Employees’ next paychecks would come after the government reopens.

Other government services may not be available, though.

The National Park Service and the Forest Service, for example, generally lock up visitor centers and restrooms, and have only minimal staff, such as law enforcement, on hand.

Unlike some past government shutdowns, this is a partial shutdown. Lawmakers approved funding for the other departments, such as Defense, earlier in the year.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus tracker

The Santa Tracker run by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, will remain online.

“Military personnel who conduct NORAD Tracks Santa are supported by approximately 1,500 volunteers who make the program possible each and every year,” the agency says.

The Polar Express railway near the Grand Canyon will continue to run, because it is operated by a third-party company rather than the National Park Service.

And Santa and his llamas — yes, llamas — are not canceling plans to visit the Olympic National Forest on Christmas Eve, where he will read to children at the Lake Quinault Lodge fireplace.

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