The partial government shutdown is now dragging into its third week, with no immediate end in sight.
Throughout shutdown negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has tried to take himself out of the equation as much as possible, saying it’s up to President Donald Trump and House Democrats to figure out a deal before he’ll so much as bring a funding bill to the floor of the Senate. Basically, McConnell wants to know Trump will sign a funding bill before he schedules a vote.
Now, a growing number of Democratic senators want to force McConnell’s hand — by calling for Senate Democrats to block votes on all bills unless it’s a funding bill to reopen the government. The idea started with Democratic Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, both of Maryland, who floated the plan on Twitter this weekend.
Senate Democrats should block consideration of any bills unrelated to opening the government until Sen. Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans allow a vote on the bipartisan bills the House passed to open the government. Mitch, don’t delay. Let’s vote!— Chris Van Hollen (@ChrisVanHollen) January 5, 2019
“Mitch, don’t delay. Let’s vote!” Van Hollen tweeted on Saturday. Cardin was quick to echo the sentiment, writing, “This isn’t business as usual. This is a crisis, a fundamental failure to govern, and Americans are suffering for it.”
Agreed. This isn’t business as usual. This is a crisis, a fundamental failure to govern, and Americans are suffering for it.— Senator Ben Cardin (@SenatorCardin) January 6, 2019
The Senate should not take up any bills unrelated to reopening the government until @SenateMajLdr lets us vote on exactly that. #Shutdown https://t.co/IUiJLWP68R
It’s no coincidence that the two senators from Maryland started the rallying cry for this; the government shutdown is a constituent issue for both of them. Being so close to DC, Maryland is home to a lot of federal government workers — about 147,000 as of 2017, according to Governing magazine. Workers at impacted government agencies are on furlough, going without a paycheck.
The number of senators joining Van Hollen is growing steadily. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont joined them on Sunday to call for blocking other bills besides a spending bill. Now, Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine (VA), Kamala Harris (CA), Cory Booker (NJ), Tom Carper (DE), and Jeff Merkley (OR), have signed onto the pledge as well, according to a tally from the Washington Post’s Jeff Stein.
And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said he is planning to vote against an upcoming Republican bill on a wide array of Middle East issues, saying McConnell and Republicans should instead bring forward a bill to fund the government.
The move has also been endorsed by progressive activist groups Indivisible and MoveOn, but it’s not just a sentiment shared by progressives; a number of centrist Democrats have signed on. There’s still the matter of seeing whether the rest of the Senate Democratic caucus will band together to block bills until the shutdown fight is resolved and the government is reopened.
There’s a distinct method to this strategy; as the Republican leader of the Senate, McConnell is in a unique position to put pressure on Trump. Remember, this all started when Trump changed his mind and refused to sign a spending bill without wall money that had passed the Senate near unanimously.
McConnell has subtly shown his displeasure with the continuation of the shutdown, urging Trump to meet with Democrats and being conspicuously absent from Trump’s press conference on border security on Friday (although his spokesperson said he simply didn’t know the press conference was happening). But he hasn’t outwardly put any real pressure on Trump to sign spending bills to open the government back up.
Right now, Trump is squabbling with Democrats, but neither side is budging on their demands. McConnell siding with Democratic leaders to put pressure on Trump or even override the president’s veto on a spending bill would be a remarkable break with his party.
Senate Democrats are getting noticeably frustrated that McConnell is deferring to Trump on the issue of reopening the government rather than acting like a leader of a co-equal branch of government who could actually stand up to the president.
“McConnell and Senate Republicans have to stop contracting out their votes to Donald Trump,” Van Hollen told the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. “They have an important constitutional role, and we should not have business-as-usual in the Senate until we open the entire federal government.”