Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — who has come under fire for not doing more to end the government shutdown —sought to target a new villain this week by blaming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the impasse.
As the Senate returned to the Capitol with no sign of the now-record partial government shutdown ending, McConnell took to the Senate floor. He charged that Pelosi, the “very distinguished congresswoman from San Francisco, has decided that opposing President Trump comes before the security of our borders.”
The Kentucky Republican’s remarks on the 24th day of the government shutdown were his sharpest yet for Pelosi, his new sparring partner for the next two years.
McConnell has largely refrained from criticizing her, just as she has rarely blasted him.
Monday, though, McConnell noted Senate Democrats had long supported various barriers at the border but were now siding with Pelosi and her “far left base” whom he accused of putting “the politics of obstruction” before policy making. He cited Pelosi’s joke earlier this month that she might give Trump $1 for his border wall.
“There was bipartisan support in the Congress for billions of dollars for physical barriers at the border before Representative Pelosi was Speaker,” McConnell said.
Pelosi responded via Twitter, using #TrumpShutdown as a hashtag and noting McConnell hasn’t held any votes this year to re-open the government.
McConnell continued on Tuesday, seeking to convince centrist Democratic senators to split with Pelosi, whom he charged was ignoring border security over the “political whims of the far left.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer took issue with McConnell’s finger pointing. The New York Democrat insisted that the only reason for the shutdown was that Trump had changed his mind about signing spending bills that the Senate had passed last year Trump backed off any signings in late December after some House conservatives urged Trump to insist on securing money for his promised border wall.
“He is way out to lunch on that one,” Schumer said of McConnell. “We’re here because the president reversed himself and the last speaker of the House failed to use his responsibility to put the Senate-passed bill on the floor.”
Schumer noted that after Pelosi became speaker, the House passed spending bills — bills that had previously been approved by the Senate — but that McConnell now refuses to bring them to the floor because Trump says he won’t sign them.
“How much more suffering must the president cause before Leader McConnell realizes it’s time to move ahead without him?” Schumer said.
House Democrats are expected to try two more tactics this year, as they consider measures to open the government until Feb. 1 and another until Feb. 28. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, Sunday suggested a reopening for three weeks but Trump rejected the idea Monday.
A group of Democratic and Republican senators met Monday in an attempt to find an exit ramp. “If people are talking, Democrats and Republicans maybe they can come up with some alternatives,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. But Cornyn said the Senate won’t take up an alternative that Trump won’t sign: “That’s what the Majority Leader said,” he said.
New polling shows Republicans taking a hit as the shutdown continues. Fifty-three percent in a Jan. 8 to 11 ABC News-Washington Post poll found Trump and Republicans are largely responsible for the shutdown. Twenty-nine percent blamed congressional Democrats, while 13 percent said each side is equally at fault.
But McConnell is not yet feeling pressure from fellow Republican senators to break with Trump: “Negotiations in this circumstance have got to be between the president of the United States and the Democrats in the Senate and the House,” Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, said Tuesday, rebuffing Democratic attempts to convince McConnell to hold a vote on House spending bills.
Asked Tuesday what he’d tell a furloughed federal worker in Kentucky the Senate was doing to resolve the stalemate, McConnell said he’d insist that there is “no way around” securing Trump’s approval to re-open the government.
“Having show votes in the Senate doesn’t solve the problem,” he said. And he ruled out having the Senate override a Trump veto.
“In a situation like this, where the president in my view is in the right place .... of course not,” he said.
House Democrats have passed other spending bills this month that would reopen the government, but have refused to give money to Trump for construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Pelosi hours after retaking the gavel in the House criticized the concept of a wall as “a waste of money” and “an immorality” during a news conference.
McConnell criticized the comment as “not serious” and said it would be “laugh-out-loud material if hundreds of thousands of federal workers weren’t going without pay because the Speaker has decided this absurdity is now her party’s official position. “ Furloughed federal workers missed their first paycheck of the year Friday.
McConnell Monday mockingly questioned whether Pelosi should now introduce legislation to tear down existing border walls and fencing.
“Here we are,” McConnell said. “Day 24. Because the speaker of the House has decided that enforcing our own laws is now ‘immoral.’ Because she’s decided it’s better to prolong this partial shutdown than invest more than one dollar in something that both parties agreed was a good idea until about five minutes ago.”
McConnell has been central to reaching a solution to most recent shutdowns, but has stayed on the sidelines this time. That’s prompted Democrats and some newspaper editorial boards to criticize McConnell for not taking up the House spending bills and attempting to override a presidential veto.
“By refusing to take action to reopen the federal government, Mitch McConnell has abdicated the responsibility of a coequal branch of government,” said American Bridge spokesperson Amelia Penniman, who emailed a clip of a Kentucky TV station interview with a federal government employee in Kentucky who is working without pay during the shutdown and caring for an ill child.
“Team Mitch,” McConnell’s Senate campaign, tweeted a rejoinder to Democratic critics on Tuesday: Dubbing it “Dems’ Shutdown Strategy,” the tweet features McConnell standing in front of faux book that reads “Everything I don’t like is Mitch McConnell’s fault.”