The new House Democratic majority voted on Thursday to end the partial government shutdown but brought Congress no closer to resolving the impasse over President Donald Trump’s demand to pay for a border wall.
The president and Senate Republicans oppose the Democrats’ plan, and the next effort to reopen the closed agencies will come when leaders of both parties meet with Trump at the White House Friday morning.
Republican Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a close confidant of Trump and chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, predicted that the shutdown would last for months.
“The impasse is real and it is deep,” Meadows said in an interview.
The House votes came hours after the opening of the 116th Congress and the election of Nancy Pelosi in a triumphant return as House speaker, the only woman to serve in the position. She first served as speaker from 2007 to 2011.
The House voted 239-192 to pass the first government spending bill, H.J. Res. 1, which would reopen the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8 to allow time for continued talks on the border wall. The chamber then passed a second measure, H.R. 21, which would open the other eight shuttered cabinet departments through September, on a 241-190 vote.
Standing By Trump
The votes were along party lines as almost all House Republicans stood by Trump, whose budget office threatened a veto of the bills if he doesn’t get the $5 billion he is seeking for a wall at the border with Mexico.
But Democrats contended the GOP should back the spending measures, because the Republican-controlled Senate or its committees voted overwhelmingly to pass them before the president reversed course and announced his opposition in December to any plan that lacked border wall funds.
“We are sending them back exactly, word for word, what they have passed,” Pelosi of California told reporters shortly before the vote. “The president cannot hold public employees hostage because he wants to have a wall that is not effective.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat, said Thursday the bills “separate the wall fight from the government shutdown -- you don’t have to have one, even if you can’t resolve the other.”
“These are not Democratic bills; they were crafted in a bipartisan way by a Republican-controlled Senate Appropriations committee and a Republican-controlled Senate,” Schumer said.
The second measure contains bipartisan Senate spending bills for the departments of Treasury, Commerce, Justice, Agriculture, State, Interior, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development. It also would fund dozens of related agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday the House votes were “political theater, not productive lawmaking.” The Kentucky Republican said his chamber won’t take up the spending bills because they don’t contain spending increases for border security.
As both sides continued to harden their positions, Trump made a surprise appearance Thursday in the White House briefing room with border patrol agents to make his case.
“Without a wall you cannot have border security,” Trump told reporters. “It won’t work.” He left without taking questions.
Vice President Mike Pence offered Democrats a compromise on Dec. 22, the first day of the shutdown, in which Trump would accept $2.5 billion for border security. Trump later disavowed the offer, saying he needed $5.6 billion for a wall.
Senate Democrats in August backed $1.6 billion for border security, though they now say they’re unwilling to provide any more than the $1.3 billion approved last year for fencing.
House progressives urged Pelosi not to provide any money for the wall.
“We should not give in to extortion,” said Maryland Democrat Jamie Raskin, whose district contains thousands of federal workers. “We have sent back the most reasonable and mild proposal to reopen the government” and Republicans should accept it, he said.
Federal workers are bearing the brunt of the shutdown’s effects. More than 450,000 “essential” employees are working without pay, including law enforcement, border patrol agents and airport screeners. These workers received paychecks at the end of December but will miss their next checks on Jan. 11 unless the agencies reopen. That could create a deadline for the talks next week.
Another 380,000 employees have been furloughed without pay.
For the public, the visible signs of the shutdown have come in the form of overflowing trash at national parks, closed museums in Washington, and a lack of guidance from the Internal Revenue Service as the first tax filing season begins under the new tax code enacted in 2017. Financial markets are flying blind as the Commerce and Agriculture departments suspended regular reports.
The partial shutdown will cut U.S. economic output by about 0.1 percent every two weeks, said Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.
Earlier Thursday, the House voted 234-197 to pass part of its package of legislative rules -- normally a routine matter, but a few Democratic progressives decided to oppose their own party’s rules. Representatives Ro Khanna of California and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said the package was flawed because it contains a “pay as you go” austerity provision supported by Democratic centrists. Only Democrat Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii joined them in voting against the rules.