Democrats relent as U.S. Congress votes to end government shutdown

U.S. lawmakers sped toward reopening the federal government as Democrats reluctantly voted to temporarily pay for resumed operations, relenting in return for assurances from Republican leaders that the Senate will soon take up the plight of young immigrants and other contentious issues.

The vote set the stage for hundreds of thousands of federal employees to return to work on Tuesday, cutting short what could have become a messy and costly impasse. The House followed the Senate in approving the bill, and President Donald Trump was expected to quickly sign it.

But by relenting, the Democrats prompted a backlash from immigration activists and liberal base supporters who wanted them to fight longer and harder for legislation to protect from deportation the 700,000 or so younger immigrants, known as “dreamers,” who were brought to the country as children and now are there illegally.

Senate Republican Leader McConnell’s commitment to quickly tackle the immigration issue was contingent on Democrats providing enough votes now for a stopgap spending measure lasting a little less than three weeks.

‘Dreamers’ and their supporters protest outside Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., on Monday.(Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

The Senate approved the final bill in an 81-18 vote, sending it to the House where it passed 266-150. Trump was expected to approve the measure, with White House press secretary Sarah Sanders predicting that operations would return to normal by Tuesday morning.

Democrats climbed aboard after two days of negotiations that ended with new reassurances from McConnell that the Senate would consider immigration proposals in the coming weeks. But there were deep divides in the Democratic caucus over strategy, as red-state lawmakers fighting for their survival broke with progressive looking to satisfy the demands of liberals and immigrants.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer lent his backing to the agreement during a speech on the chamber’s floor.

“Now there is a real pathway to get a bill on the floor and through the Senate,” he said of legislation to halt any deportation efforts aimed at dreamers.

The White House downplayed McConnell’s commitment, and said Democrats caved under pressure. “They blinked,” principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah told CNN. In a statement, Trump said he’s open to an immigration deal only if it is “good for our country.”

Opposition from Democratic hopefuls

Earlier Monday, McConnell raised hopes for a quick end to the shutdown, saying “I hope and intend” to reach agreement soon on immigration and other contentious issues — if the Democrats agreed to the stopgap spending measure lasting a little less than three weeks.

Progressive groups criticized Democrats for agreeing to reopen the government without a firmer commitment to solve the dreamers issue.

A block of liberal Democrats — some of them 2020 presidential hopefuls — stuck to their opposition. Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Dianne Feinstein of California, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey voted no, as did Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Feinstein said she wasn’t persuaded by McConnell’s assurances and did not know how a proposal to protect the more than 700,000 younger immigrants would fare in the House.

A worker passes a café in Washington offering free coffee to federal employees near the the White House during the government shutdown on Monday.(Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Senate vote came as most government offices cut back drastically or even closed on Monday, as the major effects of the shutdown were first being felt with the beginning of the workweek.

McConnell said he hoped to reach bipartisan solutions on immigration, border security, disaster aid, military funding and more by Feb. 8. If not, he said “it would be my intention to take up legislation” addressing those issues.

Trading blame

There were hours of behind the scenes talks over the weekend between the leaders and rank and file lawmakers over how to end the display of legislative dysfunction, which began at midnight Friday after Democrats blocked a temporary spending measure.

The White House and Republican leaders said they would not negotiate with Democrats on immigration until the government is reopened.

Trump on Monday accused Democrats of prioritizing services and security for non-citizens over U.S. citizens. “Not good,” his first tweet said. In a second tweet, he said, “Democrats have shut down our government in the interests of their far left base. They don’t want to do it but are powerless!”

Trump’s first tweet appeared to undercut comments by his legislative affairs director, Marc Short, who told CNN that the immigrants in question are law-abiding and “productive to our society.” Short said the administration wants to “find a pathway for them” to stay in the U.S.

Although they initially dug in on a demand for an immigration deal, Democrats had shifted to blaming the shutdown on the incompetence of Republicans and Trump, seeming sensitive to being seen by voters as willing to tie up government operations to protect immigrants.

Trump, who regularly disrupted negotiations in recent weeks, was a relatively subdued player in the weekend debate. He has not appeared in public since Friday afternoon. The White House said he was in regular contact with Republican leaders, but did not reach out to any Democrats, a White House official said.

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CBC | World News