Washington (AFP) – With the US government in shutdown, the Senate convened a rare emergency session Saturday to negotiate a way out of a crisis that has marred the anniversary of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration.
Hours after a marathon session Friday failed to produce agreement on a stopgap measure to fund federal operations through February 16, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged his colleagues to “end the foolishness” and pass a temporary spending bill.
He has indicated he will introduce a new measure that funds government through February 8, although Democrats at least publicly were giving no indication they were open to that option.
Beginning at midnight Friday night, hundreds of thousands of public sector workers were ordered to stay home without pay until a deal is reached to reopen government, although essential services and military activity would continue.
Because of the Republican’s razor thin majority in the Senate, and the chamber’s procedural rules that require 60 out of the Senate’s 100 members to allow a controversial bill to move forward, any Republican funding measure will need at least some Democratic support.
By early Saturday, the blame game was in full swing.
Republicans accuse opposition Democrats of forcing a shutdown over immigration, because the temporary spending measure under consideration does not include a solution for about 800,000 immigrants who face deportation if a fix is not reached by early March.
Democrats say Trump and his Republicans keep moving the goal posts, with the president on Friday rejecting a budget and immigration deal that even included funding for his cherished wall along the US border with Mexico, one of the chief planks of his presidential campaign.
“It’s impossible to negotiate with a constantly moving target,” top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said Saturday, a day after meeting with Trump in the White House in a effort to break the impasse.
“On the one year anniversary of President Trump’s inauguration today, his government has closed its doors to the American people, and he hardly seems to care.”
Republicans counter that Democrats rejected a bill that has nothing objectionable in it, but does not include the opposition party’s priorities on the unrelated issue of immigration.
“We do some crazy things in Washington, but this is utter madness,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told his colleagues Saturday, as the House of Representatives also entered a special weekend session.
The House has already passed the temporary spending measure, known as a “continuing resolution,” that funds government through February 16.
Any different stopgap measure passed by the Senate would have to also pass the House.