Shutdown is averted for now, but the partisan sniping continues

There’s an agreement to end the government shutdown — but it’s done little to cool the partisan firefight that’s only intensified after 35 days.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has come under scathing criticism from Democrats for refusing to buck President Donald Trump and take up a spending bill to re-open the government.

McConnell insisted Friday that Democrats must “stop playing partisan games” and negotiate with Trump, who insists on money for a wall at the U.S. border with Mexico.

The short term deal would kick the negotiation deadline to Feb. 15.

“The only way that federal workers are going to have stability and certainty beyond the next three weeks, the only way our border is going to have real security, is if Democrats will stop playing partisan games and get serious about negotiating with the president on a long-term compromise,” McConnell charged on the Senate floor.

“The days ahead will tell us whether my Democratic colleagues are actually serious about securing our nation; whether they actually mean what they say,” he said.

For weeks, the Kentucky Republican had refused to entertain any legislation that did not have Trump’s approval, a position he took after the president in December balked at signing Senate-passed legislation that did not include border wall funding.

McConnell repeatedly sought to pin the blame for the shutdown on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accusing her of being in thrall to the liberal wing of her party.

She in turn singled out McConnell for criticism Friday at a luncheon with columnists before the deal was announced. She suggested that McConnell was too beholden to Trump and should have approved a House bill to re-open the government and override Trump.

“I know he is a professional,” Pelosi said of McConnell, according to a report in the Daily Beast. “So it is particularly painful to see him kowtowing to the president of the United States. And I said to him, ‘Do you just want to abolish the Congress or maybe just the United States Senate? Because that is effectively what you’re doing.’”

McConnell had long opposed a shutdown, telling reporters in December that there is “no education in the second kick of a mule.”

His decision to hold votes this week on two competing measures — one backed by Trump and the other by Democrats —was credited by many lawmakers for spurring Trump to reach a decision that the government had to re-open. Both measures failed, providing the White House with evidence that the votes for passage weren’t there.

“The president and Nancy Pelosi weren’t getting anywhere, so as soon as you move the discussion into the privacy of the Senate leaders, things begin to happen,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, a close McConnell ally. “We have issues like this all the time up here and we resolve them all the time and the way we do it is through our committees, through a give or take process, so this provides an opportunity for the government to open as it should.”

Asked if Senate Republicans, who met Thursday with Vice President Mike Pence, had appealed to Trump to sign a three-week continuing resolution without conditions — such as a down payment on a border wall — Alexander said, “I would just say many of us made it clear to (the president) the obvious way to move forward is, open the government for a few weeks and give the committees a chance to work.”

Democrats will come to the negotiating table next week spurred on by newly energized liberal activists who will want them to resist any compromise that funds the border wall.

“Trump has caused unimaginable harm to millions of people for no reason, in service of a hateful agenda. He caved today. He cannot be allowed to win in three weeks,” tweeted Leah Greenberg, co-executive director of Indivisible, an national anti-Trump organization with local chapters around the country that helped promote Democratic candidates in the midterms.

Yet Republicans will also get pressure from their conservative base not to budge and accept a larger immigration deal.

“Maybe the solution to the border crisis is not deporting 22 million illegals but one Jared Kushner,” tweeted conservative commentator Ann Coulter, referencing Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser who supports a pathway to citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants brought to the United States illegally by their parents as children, the so-called “Dreamers.”

After the bill passed by a voice vote on the Senate floor, McConnell walked straight to his office. As reporters asked if him if he believed anything good had come out of the shutdown, he replied, “Well, we got the government open today.”

Emma Dumain and Brian Murphy contributed to this report.