The shutdown won’t end until Mitch McConnell decides to end it
On Thursday night, eight Republicans joined all the Democrats in the House of Representatives to pass a bill that would reopen parts of the federal government — omitting any funding for President Trump’s border wall — in a bid to end the two-week shutdown directly impacting about 800,000 federal workers.
On Friday, the upper chamber remained silent as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to allow a vote on legislation that would end the shutdown. McConnell has said previously that he would not take up any bills that Trump would veto.
McConnell’s role as the wrench in the senatorial works and defender of Trump’s shutdown is a curious one, however, given his previous derision toward shutting down the government. In 2013, he went so far as to argue shutdowns were antithetical to “conservative policy.”
“There will not be another government shutdown. You can count on that,” McConnell said in October 2013, at the end of a 16-day standoff over Obamacare. “Shutting down the government, in my view, is not conservative policy. I don’t think a two-week paid vacation for federal employees is conservative policy.”
In November 2018, McConnell dismissed the idea that the government would shut down in December. “No, we’re not going to do that,” he told reporters who asked about Trump’s demand for wall funding.
Less than two months later, nobody in Congress is doing more to keep the government closed than McConnell himself.
About a quarter of the federal government remains shuttered because Trump is demanding $5 billion to build a wall along the southern border. On Friday, Trump confirmed during a press conference that he had told Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that the shutdown could last for “years.”
For all intents and purposes, McConnell is the only person in Congress who can decide to re-open the government. The Democratic-led House can send bill after bill to the Senate to fund all or some of the agencies currently closed, but if the Senate refuses to act, it’s all for naught. The Senate majority leader controls the calendar and determines what the Senate votes on. While there are a few complicated legislative maneuvers that could theoretically allow another senator to bring up a bill independently, in practice, it’s effectively impossible for the Senate to vote on anything without McConnell’s consent. If he insists on passing only bills that Trump will not veto — even ones with enough support to override him — large swaths of the government will remain closed.
There are currently 90 senators in office who voted last month for a continuing resolution to reopen the government without wall funding. That is more than the two-thirds necessary to override a presidential veto.
McConnell’s press office did not respond to requests for comment.
McConnell’s caucus of 53 Republican senators has already started to crack.
“I think we should pass a continuing resolution to get the government back open,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) told The Hill on Thursday. “The Senate has done it last Congress, we should do it again today.”
“I see no reason why the bills that are ready to go and on which we’ve achieved an agreement should be held hostage to this debate over border security,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) the same day.
In July, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) said “I certainly don’t like playing shutdown politics,” when asked about Trump’s assertion that he would be willing to shut down the government over border wall funding.
I would be willing to “shut down” government if the Democrats do not give us the votes for Border Security, which includes the Wall! Must get rid of Lottery, Catch & Release etc. and finally go to system of Immigration based on MERIT! We need great people coming into our Country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2018
Johnson said of a shutdown before the midterm elections, “I don’t think it would be helpful, so let’s try to avoid it.”
Johnson’s office declined to comment Friday.
Those senators are up for re-election next year. Several other Republican senators, including some who have shown hints of diverging from Trump’s priorities or who took office this week, could not be reached for comment.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) did not respond to requests for comment Friday. Attempts to reach new Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Martha McSally (R-AZ) were also unsuccessful — no one in their offices answered their phones.
Josh Israel contributed reporting to this article.