WASHINGTON (AP) — The government shutdown stretched through its 34th day Thursday with the competing bills to reopen the government failing and a fiery exchange on the Senate floor.
The consecutive votes on two bills to end an impasse to the longest shutdown in U.S. history both fell well short of the 60 needed to pass through without a filibuster.
One saw a Republican-backed proposal that hewed to President Donald Trump’s demands for funding for a border wall fail 50-47. The other, a House-passed bill backed by Democrats, did better, 52-44, but still did not threaten the 60-vote threshold.
The measure would have reopened agency doors through Feb. 8 to give bargainers time to seek a budget accord, an approach that GOP leaders tried last month — only to be undercut by Trump.
Trump is refusing to reopen the government until he gets a deal on funding for his long-sought border wall.
Polls have shown that the public is blaming Trump for the shutdown and his approval numbers have sunk as the impasse drags on. Federal workers are on the verge of missing another paycheck Friday.
Frustrations over the shutdown also spilled into public on the Senate floor, as Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado tore into Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas after Cruz backed a GOP bill that would have paid Coast Guard members but not reopen the government.
The normally mild-mannered Bennet erupted in a fiery speech, saying, “These crocodile tears that the senator from Texas is crying for first responders are too hard for me to take.”
“They’re too hard for me to take. Because when the senator from Texas shut this government down in 2013, my state was flooded,” he said. “It was underwater. People were killed. People’s houses were destroyed. Their small businesses were ruined, forever.”
In the first serious talks in weeks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., quickly called Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to his office to explore potential next steps for solving the vitriolic stalemate.
At the White House, President Donald Trump told reporters he'd support "a reasonable agreement."
He suggested he’d also want a “pro-rated down payment” for his long-sought border wall with Mexico, a term he didn’t describe and which drew opposition from Democrats.
He said he has “other alternatives” for getting wall funding, an apparent reference to his disputed claim that he could declare a national emergency and fund its construction using other programs in the federal budget.
CNN reported a draft national emergency is already being prepared, identifying $7 billion in funds that could be diverted to the wall.
It was initially unclear whether the flurry of activity would produce results.
“At least we’re talking about it. That’s better than it was before,” McConnell told reporters in one of the most encouraging statements heard since the shutdown began Dec. 22.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, whose relationship with Trump seems to have soured daily, told reporters a “big” down payment would not be “a reasonable agreement.”
Asked if she knew how much money Trump meant, Pelosi said, “I don’t know if he knows what he’s talking about.”
Contributing to the pressure on lawmakers was the harsh reality confronting 800,000 federal workers, who on Friday face a second two-week payday with no paychecks.
Thursday’s votes came after Vice President Mike Pence lunched privately with GOP senators, who told him they were itching for the standoff to end, participants said. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-MO, said their message to Pence was, “Find a way forward.”
In an embarrassment to Trump, the Democratic proposal got two more votes Thursday than the GOP plan, even though Republicans control the chamber 53-47.
Six Republicans backed the Democratic plan, including freshman Sen. Mitt Romney, R-UT, who’s clashed periodically with the president.
Flustered lawmakers said Thursday's roll calls could be a reality check that would prod the start of talks.
Throughout, the two sides have issued mutually exclusive demands that have blocked negotiations from even starting: Trump has refused to reopen government until Congress gives him the wall money, and congressional Democrats have rejected bargaining until he reopens government.
Thursday's votes could "teach us that the leaders are going to have to get together and figure out how to resolve this," said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate GOP leader. He added, "One way or another we've got to get out of this. This is no win for anybody."
Initially, partisan potshots flowed freely.
Pelosi accused Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross of a "'let them eat cake' kind of attitude" after he said on television that he didn't understand why unpaid civil servants were resorting to homeless shelters for food.
Even as Pelosi offered to meet the president “anytime,” Trump stood firm, tweeting, “Without a Wall it all doesn’t work.... We will not Cave!”
As the Senate debated the two dueling proposals, McConnell said the Democratic plan would let that party's lawmakers "make political points and nothing else" because Trump wouldn't sign it. He called Pelosi's opposition "unreasonable" and said, "Senate Democrats are not obligated to go down with her ship."
Schumer criticized the GOP plan for endorsing Trump's proposal to keep the government closed until he gets what he wants.
"A vote for the president's plan is an endorsement of government by extortion," Schumer said. "If we let him do it today, he'll do it tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.'
McConnell’s engagement was viewed as a constructive sign because he has a history of helping resolve past partisan standoffs. For weeks, he’d let Trump and Democrats try reaching an accord and, until Thursday, had barred any votes on legislation Trump would not sign.
In consultation with their Senate counterparts, House Democrats were preparing a new border security package that might be rolled out Friday.
Despite their pledge to not negotiate until agencies reopened, their forthcoming proposal was essentially a counteroffer to Trump.
Pelosi expressed “some optimism that things could break loose pretty soon” in a closed-door meeting with other Democrats Wednesday evening, said Rep. John Yarmuth, D-KY.
The Democratic package was expected to include $5.7 billion, the same amount Trump wants for his wall, but use it instead for fencing, technology, personnel and other measures.
In a plan the rejected Senate GOP plan mirrored, Trump on Saturday proposed to reopen government if he got his wall money. He also proposed to revamp immigration laws, including new restrictions on Central American minors seeking asylum in the U.S. and temporary protections for immigrants who entered the country illegally as children.
At a panel discussion held by House Democrats on the effects of the shutdown, union leaders and former Homeland Security officials said they worried about the long-term effects.
"We will be lucky to get everybody back on the job without a crisis to respond to," said Tim Manning, a former Federal Emergency Management Agency official.
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro and AP writers Catherine Lucey, Laurie Kellman, Kevin Freking and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.